20 March 2007


The Clinton and Obama campaigns have butted heads three times in recent weeks, twice resulting in some rather nasty confrontations.

In the first two instances Clinton's camp was trying to protect something Obama was threatening to take away. In the third - last night at Harvard University - the Clinton team was trying to mitigate Obama's advantage on what may be the key issue of the campaign.

The first confrontation came weeks ago. The Clintons were frosted when Hollywood producer David Geffen - a long-time Bill Clinton supporter until a tiff a few years back - put his support ($$) behind Obama and held a lavish fundraiser for him in La - La land. The Clinton reaction was an attempt to put the Hollywood set on notice that further defections would not be tolerated.

Then came the march on Selma. It was supposed to be a Barack Obama moment, comemorating the famous 1960's civil rights march. In this case the prize - African American support - was even bigger than the campaign dollars thrown around in Tinseltown. Once Clinton got wind of Obama's plans to appear, she hurriedly booked her own place on the Selma program and reserved a spot for her husband, the former president, as well. It was an effort to keep to a minimum the damage Obama could do to Clinton's strong support among black voters.

Which brings us to the latest confrontation, over Iraq.

Clinton would clearly love a clean, consistent record opposing the war in Iraq. But, short of that, she wouldn't mind muddying-up Obama's record a little.

The effort started last week when Bill Clinton, at a fund-raising dinner in New York, seemed to be questioning whether Obama has been consistent in his opposition to the war.

The New York Post's (in)famous Page Six gossip column reported on a conversation New York radio personality Curtis Sliwa said he had that evening with the former president about what Clinton felt was a free pass being given to Obama by the New York Times.

Clinton focused on the fact that three years ago - shortly after Barack Obama burst onto the world stage with his speech at the Democratic National Convention where John Kerry was nominated- Obama was asked how he would have voted on the Iraq war if he'd been in Congress at that time. "And Obama said, 'Im not sure,' " Sliwa recalled (Clinton saying). "Clinton said the Times has a duty to report on Obama's initial ambivalence." -- Curtis Sliwa quoted by the New York Post

The Obama camp struck back the next day, saying his opposition to the war has been unwavering.

Which brings us to last night in Cambridge, Mass., where a shouting match between senior advisors from the two campaigns startled students, faculty members and reporters attending a forum at Harvard.

Here's a bit of the back-and-forth between Clinton's senior strategist Mark Penn and Obama advisor David Axelrod as reported by the New York Times blog The Caucus:

PENN:"Hey, people can say, 'I wasn't in the Senate, here is what I would have done,' or 'Hey, I left the Senate, let me tell you what I would have done now.' Senator Clinton has taken responsibility for her vote."

AXELROD: "I agree with you that the future is what's important. I did not sit here and comment on Senator Clinton's decision in 2002. You found it necessary to draw Senator Obama into the discussion. This goes back to the discussion we had before: Are we going to spend 10 months savaging each other? Or are we going to try to lift this country up?"

The Obama camp - perhaps coincidentally - today released a video time line of sorts, backing the senator's claims that his opposition to the war has been steadfast.

But the Boston Globe reported today there is some evidence that Obama's positioning on the war has been a bit nuanced over the years.

"Campaigning for the Illinois Senate seat in 2003 and 2004, Obama scolded Bush for invading Iraq and vowed he would 'unequivocally' vote against an additional $87 billion to pay for it. Yet since taking office in January 2005, he has voted for four separate war appropriations, totaling more than $300 billion.

Last June, Obama voted no to Senator John F. Kerry's proposal to remove most combat troops from Iraq by July 2007, warning that an 'arbitrary deadline' could 'compound' the Bush administration's mistake. And last week, he voted for a Republican-sponsored resolution that stated the Senate would not cut off funding for troops in Iraq." -Boston Globe
Whatever your take on all this, Obama has been gaining steadily in the polls. The latest example is yesterday's Rasmussen Reports poll which shows the Illinois senator just five points behind Clinton, 35% to 30%. A week ago in the same poll he was behind by 12. Clinton lost three points while Obama gained 4.

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