Decrypting Clinton's new ad attacking McCain

While many Democrats openly questions whether Clinton has any path to reach the nomination, her campaign has already moved on the primary and is setting up attacks on John McCain. It released today what is the first contrast ad of the 2008 general election! Few would have expected the first shot to come from Hillary, and that element of surprise is clearly something the campaign wanted to play with.

The ad, which you can view here, is a sequel of the 3am ad question used against Obama in the run-up to the Texas and Ohio primaries. This one uses the same pictures but suddenly explains, "this time the crisis is economic" before directly criticizing McCain (the first version of the 3am ad did not mention Obama by name). Here is the beginning of the script:

It’s 3 am, and your children are safe and asleep.

But there’s a phone ringing in the White House and this time the crisis is economic.

Home foreclosures mounting, markets teetering.

John McCain just said the government shouldn’t take any real action on the housing crisis, he’d let the phone keep ringing.

The McCain campaign wasted little time replying, not only with a particularly cruel push-back ("With an ad like that, it's more likely that the call at 3:00 am is, "Senator, you've just lost another superdelegate," said an aide) but also by releasing their very own web ad which they might actually broadcast depending on how widely Clinton's media buy is. McCain's ad takes the very same images Clinton used and replaces the part that attacked him with a script attacking the two Democrats for wanting to respond to the economic crisis by... raising taxes (old attacks never die).

Clinton's rationale for preparing an anti-McCain ad when she barely has enough money contesting against McCain can seem puzzling, but there a number of very clear reasons justifying this move. Clinton wants to stay relevant. With Obama and McCain getting in increasingly routine exchanges, Clinton must be fearing growing at best invisible at worst a nuisance as Democrats will want to move on to attacking the Republican nominee.

The ad's primary audience are superdelegates. It's unlikely Clinton will spend that much money airing this spot, but she is relying on earned media to make sure all uncommitted superdelegates hear about it. With this, Clinton is insisting on a few messages:

(1) She is claiming through this ad that not only will she not prove a distraction to the general election campaign, but she will air an attack ad against McCain before the Obama campaign.

(2) Relatedly, Clinton is trying to put to rest criticism that she is putting herself before her party and that she is giving McCain ammunition to use against Obama in the general election. Many people criticized her for this when the original 3am ad was aired, and Clinton wants to take her part in McCain bashing to prove to superdelegates that she does not intend to help McCain win in November.

(3) Clinton wants to show that she is comfortable attacking McCain on economic issues. Democrats are likely to draw on the current economic crisis as much as possible in the coming months, as elections that play out on the socio-economic terrain tend to favor Democrats much more than those that are debated on national security topics. And Clinton considers the economy to be her forte, and she is telling superdelegates that she will be more capable than Obama to exploit what is widely viewed as the area McCain knows the least about.


  • Trenchant comments. I don't want to jinx anyone, but in the last day or so, there have been fewer direct attacks between Obama and Clinton. A lot of what's now circulating is old news.

    I don't consider the Billatack in SF as a contraindication because (a) he's totally undisciplined; and (b) there's no reason for her to stop pleading her comparative virtues and his weaknesses to the Super Ds, so long as she's not making a public spectacle out of this.

    While I'm an Obama supporter, I do recognize that there are legitimate questions about how broad an appeal he has in critical states, and that's a legitimate point for all delegates to consider.

    By Anonymous zoot, At 03 April, 2008 09:40  

  • I don't think you'll see Obama attacking Hillary; or McCain for that matter; in negative campaign ads as he seems to want to stay above the fray. Attacking Hillary just gives her campaign a chance to return fire as an equal when in reality he needs to deal with her in the same way McCain dealt with Huckabee; politely, but with no chance of winning. After all her odds of winning the nomination are about the same as Huckabee had around the time of the Texas primary.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 03 April, 2008 10:43  

  • Sadly, Clinton's strategy may work. She's moving beyond the convention (which she has yet to win) and playing herself out as the general election candidate. I think she's positioning herself to take the nomination without even having to win it.

    And it just might work. Never underestimate the Clintons. The pressure needs to hurry up and mount against her to withdraw, or she will somehow weasel her way into the nomination.

    That's the problem with democrats -- they're too nice. They need to hurry up and get it over with.

    By Blogger Daniel Gray, At 03 April, 2008 11:05  

  • Daniel - I understand where you're coming from and ordinarily I'd be down with that. However, my primary (pun) concern is the fragility of the support groups on each side. In prior races, the interest groups weren't so sharply divided - feminists/women and Latinos in one camp, AAs and young voters on the other. Particularly with the feminists and the black community, there is some 'all or nothing' thinking. Everything is filtered through their affinity preferences, and those who don't agree are often tagged as sexist or racist (though there's plenty of that to go around). Anyone or anything that stands in the way of realizing the dream (1st woman/AA president) is malevolent. The Latino community is susceptible to a McCain presidency, and young voters are more strongly bonded to the candidate than the party or its policies, and are easily discouraged from participating if their candidate loses. So, lots of work to do.

    Sorting out the MI-FL mess requires significant diplomatic skills. This needs to get done in a way that allows Clinton supporters, esp. women, to feel there's been process fairness, so they can get over their disappointment and support Obama, should he be the nominee. OTOH, the door can't be thrown completely open to delegates selected in a jury-rigged primary if that will change the result, for much the same reason. You can say good-bye to the black and youth vote if that happens.

    Obama needs to get this issue behind him. Clinton would like to keep it alive, because any resolution short of complete success (and maybe not even that) doesn't really move her close enough to victory, while being able to complain about undemocratic practice could conceivably move some support away from him.

    By Anonymous zoot, At 03 April, 2008 12:07  

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