After struggling for months to dent Sen. Barack Obama’s candidacy, the campaign of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton is unleashing what one Clinton aide called a “kitchen sink” fusillade against Obama, pursuing five lines of attack since Saturday in hopes of stopping his political momentum.
The effort reflects not only Clinton’s recognition that the next round of primaries — in Ohio and Texas on March 4 — are must-win contests for her. It also resonates her advisers’ belief that they can persuade many undecided voters to embrace her candidacy at the last minute by finally drawing sharply worded, attention-grabbing contrasts with Obama.
After angrily denouncing Obama over the weekend for an anti-Clinton flier about the NAFTA trade treaty, and then sarcastically portraying his message of hope on Sunday as naive, Clinton delivered a blistering speech on Monday that compared Obama’s lack of foreign policy experience to that of the candidate George W. Bush.
“We’ve seen the tragic result of having a president who had neither the experience nor the wisdom to manage our foreign policy and safeguard our national security,” Clinton said in a speech on foreign policy at George Washington University. “We can’t let that happen again.”
With a crucial debate in Ohio on Tuesday night, both Clinton’s advisers and independent political analysts said that, by going negative against Obama when polls in Texas and Ohio show a tightening race, Clinton risked alienating voters. Clinton has always been more popular with voters when she appeared sympathetic and a fighter; her hard-edged instinct for negative politics, meanwhile, has usually turned off the public.
“There’s a general rule in politics: A legitimate distinction which could be effective when drawn early in the campaign, often backfires and could seem desperate when it happens in the final hours of a campaign,” said Steve McMahon, a Democratic strategist who is not working for either candidate.
In Clinton’s speech on Monday, she also portrayed herself as “tested and ready” to be commander in chief, while accusing Obama of believing “that mediation and meetings without preconditions will solve some of the world’s most intractable problems.” Obama has said he would go further than Clinton to meet with leaders of hostile nations, but he has also said he would prepare for those meetings carefully and would not be blind to the leaders’ motives.
Clinton’s aides, meanwhile, accused Obama on Monday of working with outside groups to spend money on the campaign that went beyond party rules. But the attack that received the most pop on cable television and the blogs, came after a photograph of Obama dressed in ceremonial African garb appeared on the Drudge Report, and the item’s author, Matt Drudge, said that the image was provided by a Clinton staff member.
Obama’s campaign manager, David Plouffe, said that, if it circulated the photograph, the Clinton campaign had “engaged in the most shameful, offensive fear-mongering we’ve seen from either party.”