Barack Obama’s Campaign Increasingly Engages Hillary Clinton
By TAHMAN BRADLEY
It was only a matter of time before Sen. Barack Obama, who presents himself as an anti-establishment, outsider candidate, would clash with his main rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, Sen. Hillary Clinton, who is widely viewed as the epitome of the Washington guard.”Change can’t just be a slogan,” Obama said, stumping in Iowa, in an apparent swipe at the New York senator’s relatively new campaign slogan “Ready for Change, Ready to Lead.”
“Change has to be something that is demonstrated day to day on an ongoing basis, and I think that my career and my campaign has demonstrated that,” Obama later added at a news conference. The race for the Democratic presidential nomination began in earnest without any major brushes between the leading candidates. But with Labor Day — traditionally the beginning of the most intense period for a nomination fight — fast approaching, Obama’s campaign seems to be subtly but deliberately tying to step up its public engagement with Clinton.
Seeking to use his limited experience in national politics as an asset, Obama has been arguing that he represents the future of politics and that Clinton is part of the past. After praising former President Bill Clinton, Obama told The Associated Press, “What we’re more interested in is in looking forward, not looking backward. I think the American people feel the same way.” The senator’s chief surrogate and most important campaign weapon, former President Clinton, dealt with the potential “change” hurdle by telling Time magazine that voters don’t want to erase what he and his wife did in their eight years in the White House.
“They want to change from what was undone about where we were going,” he said. “Basically, every election is a change election. All elections are about tomorrow, not yesterday. Yesterday is only relevant as it gives evidence about tomorrow.” There was also the sharp elbow Obama threw in Clinton’s direction on the question of who is best prepared to lead the country. When asked about Clinton supporters raising the issue of Obama’s experience at a Chicago fundraiser last month, Obama replied by assailing one of Hillary Clinton’s main campaign arguments, that her experience makes her best prepared to lead the country from the moment she is sworn in.
“The only person who would probably be prepared to be our president on Day One would be Bill Clinton — not Hillary Clinton,” said Obama. But that hasn’t stopped the Clinton campaign from using the “ready on Day One” talking point. In Thursday’s press conference call where he endorsed Sen. Clinton’s candidacy, former congressman/presidential candidate Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., said that Clinton “clearly has the most experience to do this job from Day One.”
And then there was the controversial, not-for-attribution, opposition-research memo the Obama campaign circulated that pointed to Clinton’s investments in India and her fundraising efforts among Indian-Americans. Even though Obama expressed regret, calling the memo a “screw-up,” the incident showed that the Obama camp is not above trying to paint Clinton in a negative light.
Even more important, the incident seemed to contradict Obama’s pledge to run a different kind of campaign above “the smallness of our politics.” As if the world did not already know, Obama, like every other candidate on the planet, employs a research team that closely scrutinizes opponents.
Clinton spokesman Phil Singer declined to comment on whether or not he thinks Obama has increased his attacks, but instead, in a familiar refrain, said, “We think that Americans are looking for a candidate with the strength and experience to bring change on Day One, and we think that’s Hillary Clinton.” The Obama campaign could not be reached for comment on this story.
The friction with Clinton comes as Obama struggles to improve his position in national polls, where he runs behind Clinton by double digits despite having financially out-raised every other presidential candidate. As Obama and his campaign certainly understand, excitement and fundraising prowess six months before the Iowa caucuses does not necessarily translate into capturing the nomination.
For now, Obama’s engagement of Clinton is still measured, and pales in comparison to recent battles like Al Gore vs. Bill Bradley or George Bush vs. John McCain. But nomination fights often turn contentious. And Obama is beginning to demonstrate that he’s ready for combat.