Controversies over UNITE ad, Reagan comments dominate final hours of NV campaign

Nevada Democrats are getting their due. Despite their caucus being scheduled to join Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina in the January line-up, no one paid any attention to them for months with barely any polling of the race being conducted. But with Obama and Clinton splitting the first two contests, Nevada has become very important -- and we have very little idea of what is going to happen tomorrow. Clinton has been leading in the few polls released this week but we can't trust Nevada polling given that no one has any idea what the turnout will be. Which makes tomorrow's vote that much more exciting.

Today, the two controversies I wrote about yesterday (Obama's Reagan comments and the UNITE ad against Clinton) continued to be the main topic of discussion on the campaign trial.

Let's start the UNITE ad which attacked Clinton's character, accusing her of seeking to suppress voting and calling her "shameless." John Edwards rushed to get involved today. You might remember that back in Iowa, Obama made a big deal of the fact that independent groups (in particular unions) were getting involved on behalf of Clinton and Edwards -- and the ads they ran were generally positive. Now, Edwards is attacking Obama for the same reason, asking why the IL Senator is not condemning an ad that Edwards called "divisive."

And this only a day after Edwards went after Obama for the comments the Senator made about Ronald Reagan, a curious dynamic in which Edwards is rushing to Clinton's rescue. After Iowa, Edwards was trying to bury Clinton and boost Barack, but now that Hillary is clearly going to be in the race all the way until February 5th, Edwards's adversary is first and foremost Obama.

And today, it is the Clinton camp that was all over the Reagan comments. Barney Frank was among the first to go on the offensive, and it is worth quoting him at length because he is arguing that Obama's search for common ground with Reagan was not just on leadership style and that there was something substantive he compared himself to:

When I think about the 60s and the 70s, I think about Medicaid, Medicare, the Environmental Protection Agency, Community Development Block Grants...It's astounding to me to have this blanket endorsement of a right wing attack... When he says government in effect grew too much in the 60s and 70s...Reagan agreed with that. This is not simply a tribute to Ronald Reagan's rhetoric but an endorsement of some of the substance.

After Hillary Clinton also went after Obama for saying that Republican had "better ideas" (which Obama didn't really say), Bill jumped in: "It goes along with their plan to ask Republicans to become Democrats for a day and caucus with you tomorrow, and then go back and become Republicans so they can participate in the Republican primary." This is a criticism that the Clintons started airing after Iowa, charging that Obama was relying too much on the vote of non-Democrats to win the primary.

The response of Obama's spokesman Bill Burton came quickly: “It’s hard to take Hillary Clinton’s latest attack seriously when she’s the one who supported George Bush’s war in Iraq, the most damaging Republican idea of our generation." A way of reminding Democratic voters that, when it comes to what the two candidates have actually done and advocated, Clinton has drifted much closer to Republican ideas and GOP substance than Obama.

Another element playing against Clinton in this controversy is this press release from December 12th on her website that contains an editorial by a NH press group that endorsed her. This editorial claims that Reagan is one of Clinton's favorite presidents: "Her list of favorite presidents - Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Lincoln, both Roosevelts, Truman, George H.W. Bush and Reagan - demonstrates how she thinks." This does not tell us, of course, whether Clinton simply admires Reagan's leadership or something more substantive, but the question should at least be addressed.

For some more context, Marc Ambinder reminds us of this excerpt from an interview he conducted a few months back with Marty Nesbitt, one of Obama's best friends. Nesbitt told Ambinder that Obama had cited Reagan among the figures he admired the most: "Barack told me, no, he really had something that inspired the company and brought it together. I may disagree with him on policy, but he was what American needed at that moment in history." That's a rather strong statement on Obama's part, and it certainly begs the question of whether he voted for Reagan in 1980 if he truly thought that Reagan was "what America needed."



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