Can the Clinton campaign take the heat?

The campaign sends out a memo complaining about the Obama campaign's new strategy.


Alex Koppelman
March 6, 2008 10:25PM (UTC)

They say irony is dead, but Hillary Clinton's campaign may be on a mission to prove that wrong. In a memo today, the Clinton camp went negative on Barack Obama for, yes, going negative on Clinton. "Senator Obama lost Ohio and Texas because voters had doubts about his ability to serve as Commander-in-Chief and steward of the economy. But instead of addressing those concerns, how is Senator Obama responding? By attacking Senator Clinton," the memo reads.

"With one of his top foreign policy advisers acknowledging yesterday that he is not ready to take the 3am call and one of his principal supporters in Texas unable to name a single legislative accomplishment, Senator Obama's time would be better spent making the case for why he can do the most important job in the world just three years out of the state senate."

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(The full memo can be read after the jump.)

Forget the inherent internal contradictions here; the Clinton campaign hasn't made any secret of its negative campaigning strategy over recent days. As a colleague observed -- correctly, we think -- the memo is sort of like starting a fight, then complaining when the other guy hits you back.

The Clinton camp's messaging bled over into a conference call, when communications director Howard Wolfson, repeating an allegation from the memo, compared Obama to Whitewater investigator Ken Starr. "When Senator Obama was confronted with questions over whether he was ready to be Commander-in-Chief and steward of the economy, he chose not to address those questions, but to attack Senator Clinton," Wolfson said, according to the Politico's Ben Smith. "I for one do not believe that imitating Ken Starr is the way to win a Democratic primary election for president."

The Obama campaign has already responded. In a statement, spokesman Bill Burton said,

It is absurd that after weeks of badgering the media to "vet" Senator Obama, the Clinton campaign believes that they should be held to an entirely different standard. We don't believe that expecting candidates for the presidency to disclose their tax returns somehow constitutes Ken Starr-tactics, but the kind of transparency and accountability that Americans are looking for and that's been missing in Washington for far too long. And if Senator Clinton doesn't think that the Republicans will ask these very same questions, then she's not as ready to go toe-to-toe with John McCain as she claims.

The Clinton memo:

Senator Obama lost Ohio and Texas because voters had doubts about his ability to serve as Commander-in-Chief and steward of the economy. But instead of addressing those concerns, how is Senator Obama responding? By attacking Senator Clinton.

With one of his top foreign policy advisers acknowledging yesterday that he is not ready to take the 3am call and one of his principal supporters in Texas unable to name a single legislative accomplishment, Senator Obama's time would be better spent making the case for why he can do the most important job in the world just three years out of the state senate.

Sen. Obama's decision to go explicitly negative suggests that he is unable to make an affirmative case for his candidacy beyond ad hominem attacks. Why isn't he discussing the hearings that he held on the Foreign Affairs subcommittee that he chairs? Why isn't he talking about his travel through Latin America? Why isn't he briefing the public on his comprehensive plan to address the foreclosure crisis now? Why isn't he stumping on his universal plan health care plan? Because he can't and so he is advancing a campaign strategy premised on process and personal attacks.

The Obama campaign's negative strategy builds on one it already had in place. In Ohio and Texas, Senator Obama outspent us by a 2 to 1 margin and engaged in a negative campaign for weeks in advance on the March 4 elections. He sent negative mail that was declared misleading and false by top news organizations and ran radio ads that attacked Sen. Clinton on national security. At the same time, Senator Obama and his surrogates unleashed a barrage of negative and misleading attacks on Sen. Clinton focusing on a variety of issues.

Apparently, the Obama campaign's idea of new politics is to recycle the same old Republican attacks on Senator Clinton that have failed for years. Imitating Ken Starr is not the way to win the Democratic nomination.

The reality is that after spending $16.6 million on television and radio in the four states that voted on Tuesday and $47 million overall, Senator Obama has still not passed the commander in chief and steward of the economy tests. And no amount of false attacks on Senator Clinton is going to change that fact.


Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

MORE FROM Alex Koppelman

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

2008 Elections Barack Obama Hillary Rodham Clinton

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