2.29.2008

Obama blankets OH and TX, Clinton responds with controversial ad

Continuing his spending dominance, Barack Obama is taking additional steps to blanket Ohio and Texas with advertisements. His campaign has bought time for a two-minute ad in ever media market of Ohio and Texas (and there are many, especially in Texas) the day before the election. This is a tactic that both major campaigns used in previous elections, particularly in Iowa, but it had not been tried yet in such big states. What is even more noteworthy is that the Clinton is for now showing no intention following suit, yet another indication of how massively she is being outspent in these two must-win states. Driving around in Texas, Politico's Jonathan Martin is also amazed by the extent of Obama's advertisement.

And, as I pointed out yesterday, this spending gap is not necessarily explained by the fundraising gap. Clinton's February $35 million -- by far her record since the start of the campaign -- should be more than enough to answer Obama. If anything, Clinton's campaign is probably thinking far less about saving money all the way to the convention right now than Obama's is.

Facing with this ad onslaught, it is looking like an increasingly impossible task for Clinton to get what she needs on Tuesday -- big enough victories to cut into Obama's delegate lead in any meaningful way. And the New York Senator is trying something new today: A controversial new ad that makes the preparedness for national security more explicitly than ever before in this race. With pictures of children sleeping and the sound of a phone ringing (watch the ad here), an announcer reads the following script:

It's 3am and your children are safe and asleep. But there's a phone in the White House and it's ringing.

Something's happening in the world. Your vote will decide who answers that call.

Whether it's someone who already knows the world's leaders, knows the military, someone tested and ready to lead in a dangerous world.

It's 3am and your children are safe and asleep. Who do you want answering the phone?

The ad naturally ends with the customary "I'm Hillary Clinton and I approve this message" (which should dispel any possibility that people think that this is, say, an Obama ad). The ad is reminiscent so many GOP ads over the past few cycles, emphasizing the danger of this world and the need for a strong lead. What came to my mind first was Bush's wolves ad from 2004 -- the suggestion of danger being almost stronger than showing danger itself. But, via Ben Smith, this ad truly comes from, an 1984 spot called "Red Phone" ran by Walter Mondale against Gary Hart, questioning the latter's preparation to deal with the "issues of our time" (watch this ad here).

What is most striking about Clinton's ad is how weak a contrast it draws -- it is truly the Democratic version of such ads, in that it remains very soft, so soft that I can't help but wonder whether it can really have any effect. The wolves ad, for example, was a direct attack on Kerry; Clinton's ad only draws implicit contrasts, and it is unclear whether the first-time viewer even notices them before being told who the ad is being ran by.

If Obama is the Democratic nominee, expect much much more brutal versions of this argument, since McCain has already made Obama's national security inexperience a central feature of his campaign. If this issue continues to dominate over the next few months, will it force Obama's hand when it comes to a VP pick, and will have have to choose someone based first and foremost on foreign affairs/national security credentials (Webb and Richardson?).

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