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Monday, February 18, 2008

How Hillary Plays the Game

In the past two weeks the Clinton Campaign was in free fall and her message was stuffed. The headlines were "Obama Wins Again - Clinton Still Running!"

In the past 48 hours the Clinton Campaign has launched a series of statements designed to get her back on offense and force Obama to concede that this is still a two person race for the nomination. The Wall Street Journal gleefully wondered aloud if Obama had crested.

There's a method in all of this madness and I'd like to posit some guesses about the Clinton strategy in the media. It boils down to the fact that Hillary Clinton knows how to play Media Politics and she's decided to shoot down the high flying Obama if she can. In a page or two from Karl Rove she created a series of "incidents".

What's Obama's strength? His soaring rhetoric. So call him a thief and infer that the strength of his voice is not really his own. Imply that he is weak.

What's his stand on Campaign Finance? Say he flipped on a pledge to restrict his
campaign finance to public funding. Imply he has no character.

What's his position on debating? Accuse him of denying the voters of Wisconsin a debate on the issues. Imply that he is afraid of her.

None of these points are very strong nor do they hold up to scrutiny and none are playing particularly well on their merits individually. But that is the key. The Clinton Campaign is working furiously to build a list against Obama, point by point. If they can fire off enough smoke bombs they may be able to use the cover to sow doubt. They are trying to give their candidate a chance to get back into the national conversation - even at the expense of the truth. She knows she will be quoted for saying he's a fraud and she knows that each quote demands a response which pulls him off of a very powerful message.

Each new burst requires him to defend himself and the national media only covers one headline at a time. So it's a strategy she hopes will shut him up and give her room to run.

I suspect Hillary supporters are gleeful. Conservative pundits are saying, "We told you that this is who the Clintons are!" And the Obama camp is on it's heels.

To her great credit Hillary has tried to run an issues campaign but it sputtered in the face of Hope and Change. So now the gloves are coming off and we'll wait and see what the voters think of the new/old Hillary.

It's insightful to observe that she has said she is tested and ready to deal with the attacks she knows will come from the right wing. And this may be her way of demonstrating how she plans to win - by shredding whoever stands in her way. I can only guess what the backroom brawl with the DNC looks like. There will be blood.

To smear and distort your way to victory without owning it is to be deceptive and deceitful. But in her experience this is how the game is played. If you don't like it stay home in November.

In the next 24 hours Obama will respond. But how? He can't quote the far right. And he can't remain aloof. How will he form the response that disarms her and keeps his campaign out of the mud fight she wants?

If Obama takes the bait, it could be a tremendous help to John McCain.

If he doesn't he may fail his first big test of national leadership.

**(Update 2.19.08)

Obama's response: Big win in Wisconsin!

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