Hunting for the Hammer to Haul Hillary Down
Remember that famous YouTube parody of the Macintosh “1984” ad earlier this year? A New York Times story a couple of weeks ago suggested that Barack Obama’s campaign really thought it would be that easy to shatter Hillary Clinton’s candidacy:
The interview came amid growing signs that Mr. Obama was looking for a fresh start for his campaign after nine months in which his aides said they were startled by the effectiveness of Mrs. Clinton’s campaign, and worried that her support was not as brittle as they had once believed.
Ooops. Now, with the Iowa caucuses less than two months away, Obama and John Edwards (as well as some of the other Democratic candidates) are visibly scrambling to hurl not only hammers but wrenches, screwdrivers, seat cushions, and anything else that isn’t nailed down at Hillary’s front-running telescreen — and some polls show that they may be making some headway. Clinton, meanwhile, is doing her best to steer the conversation back to her themes:
“I’m not interested in attacking my opponents, I’m interested in tackling the problems of America,” she said last weekend at a Democratic dinner in Iowa. “We should be turning up the heat on the Republicans — they deserve all the heat we can give them.”
That notion of “tackling the problems of America” was what I described a couple of weeks ago as the key job requirement in the minds of the millions of hiring managers who will vote for the next President — and as the reason why Clinton’s apparent lead has proved so durable. As a New York Times poll notes today:
Voters have clearly rallied around one central part of Mr. Obama’s message: 37 percent of respondents in Iowa described him as the candidate most likely to bring change to Washington. But Mrs. Clinton’s effort to present herself as having the experience to be president has clearly taken hold: 80 percent of Iowa voters described her as prepared to be president, compared with 68 percent who said that of Mr. Edwards and just 42 percent who said that of Mr. Obama.
Overcoming that sense of greater preparedness has led Obama and Edwards to adopt a two-pronged strategy: (1) depict Hillary’s perceived experience as something that makes her a captive of the existing problems, rather than someone who knows how to resolve them; and (2) portray themselves more vividly as action-focused leaders rather than
pret– attractive, eloquent speakers.
Thus we have Edwards adopting attention-getting proposals like challenging Congress to give up its own health insurance until it passes legislation to provide it for all Americans. And we also see Barack Obama giving a rousing, impassioned speech in Iowa that reshapes his high-minded calls for bipartisanship into a plea that “we have a chance to bring the country together to tackle problems that George Bush made far worse and that festered long before George Bush took office.”
Of course, if you ask me, the best opportunity for Edwards, Obama, or any other Democratic candidate to demonstrate their ability to make change happen would be to take the lead in sharpening the Iraq debate, especially now that the congressional Dems seem willing to dive into the fray again. For anyone who wants to tout their leadership skills, isn’t this a good time to step forward?