Obama criticized over Reagan comments, Hillary blasted by UNITE

One of the big stories on the trail today is Barack Obama's comments during an interview to the Reno Gazette-Journal. Seeking to explain why his search for unity mattered, Obama compared himself to Ronald Reagan:

I think Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not. He put us on a fundamentally different path because the country was ready for it. I think they felt like with all the excesses of the 1960s and 1970s and government had grown and grown but there wasn't much sense of accountability in terms of how it was operating. I think people, he just tapped into what people were already feeling, which was we want clarity we want optimism, we want a return to that sense of dynamism and entrepreneurship that had been missing.

The themes in this statement are very much in line with Obama's campaign message, as the candidate seeks to present himself as an opportunity to get beyond the fights of the 1960s and the culture wars of the 1990s to bring about a new chapter in American history, one in which a new majority can negotiate pragmatic solutions. But this comparison to Reagan also exemplifies what many on the Left are worried about in Obama's call for bipartisanship, since Obama is positioning himself as a centrist -- and describing Reagan as such, something most activist Democrats would not agree with.

Comparing his own "optimism" to that of Reagan was sure to inspire critics of Obama's style of change like John Edwards who has long said that you can't "nice special interests" to give up their power. Armed with what he thinks is yet another proof that Obama is too centrist to implement true reforms, Edwards predictably ripped Obama by reminding his audience of how conservative Reagan was: "He was openly -- openly-- intolerant of unions and the right to organize.... He openly did extraordinary damage to the middle class and working people... I can promise you this: this president will never use Ronald Reagan as an example for change."

So what is going on here? Is this just a remake of the 2004 controversy when Howard Dean had called for Democrats to talk to voters who have confederate flags in their pick-up trucks? Dean had been blasted by his rivals who had used that as one piece of evidence that Dean was racially insensitive (a storyline they were pushing aggressively) -- but Dean had defended himself saying he just meant that the Reagan Democrats had to be talked to again about economic issues if the Democratic Party wanted to win elections again. And Obama does not seem to be trying to make a point only on style here, or on mode of communication. Obama is clearly not just referring to Reagan's leadership style or his ability to change the direction of the country (which he undeniably did by heralding the conservative come back). By referring to the "excesses" of the 60s and 70s, he is not only praising Reagan's effectiveness and genius at strategizing but also finding a common ground with Reagan's substantial criticism of governmental excesses and lack of entrepreneurship, the alleged flaws of the liberalism of the 1970s. Such criticism can surprise those who think of Obama as a particularly progressive figure, but it is very much in line with the rest of Obama's message.

Meanwhile, another story in Nevada is the stunningly negative radio ad that UNITE-Here is running in Nevada against Hillary Clinton, attacking her character and calling her "shameless." Aimed at the Hispanic community, this ad seeks to capitalize on the controversy over the lawsuit against the at-large precincts (that failed today). Here is the script (and you can listen the ad here, via Marc Ambinder):

Hillary Clinton does not respect our people. Hillary Clinton supporters went to court to prevent working people to vote this Saturday – that is an embarrassment. Hillary Clinton supporters want to prevent people from voting in their workplace on Saturday. This is unforgivable! Hillary Clinton is shameless. Hillary Clinton should not allow her friends to attack our people’s right to vote this Saturday. This is unforgivable, there is no respect. Senator Obama is defending our right to vote. Senator Obama wants our votes. He respects our votes, our community, and our people. Senator Obama’s campaign slogan is “Sí Se Puede, Sí se puede.” (“Yes We Can”). Vote for a president that respects us, and that respects our right to vote. Obama for president, “Si Se Puede” (“Yes We Can”).

One of the most flawed moves of the Clinton campaign over the past few weeks is openly relying on the Latino's supposed distrust of African-Americans as a way of carrying the Hispanic vote and winning states like California. The Clinton camp has been at times particularly transparent in its confidence that it has a lock on the Latino vote, and as we are seeing in Nevada that is not materializing at all. A lot of that has to do with the lawsuit, but clearly Clinton cannot hope to win on February 5th based on this strategy. And a lot is made of the fact that Clinton has had big lead among Hispanic voters -- but she also had big leads among the general population in national polls or in California polls for a long time, simply by virtue of being the front-runner.

A new Rasmussen poll of California shows that the state is actually emerging as the battleground of February 5th. Clinton -- who long seemed untouchable here -- is only ahead 38% to 33%, with Edwards at 12%. Once the media turns to February 5th, it is likely to make California the dominant narrative. And with the other big states (IL, AK, NY and NJ) being home-turf for one of the candidates, California is going to be made as the big showdown -- and clearly it is looking much tighter than many people probably expect.

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