February 12, 2007

Obama Goes After Hillary

The Democrats can forget about the 2008 primary being a love-in. The same weekend that Barack Obama threw his hat into the ring, he also aimed a few brickbats at the front-runner over her vote on the war in Iraq. Obama wants to make a clear delineation between himself and Hillary Clinton as the obvious standardbearer for the Left:

Senators Obama and Clinton banged heads over the Iraq war yesterday, marking their first dustup since the start of the presidential campaign.

Just a day after officially announcing his candidacy in Illinois, Mr. Obama took aim at Mrs. Clinton's vote to authorize the war, saying, "I think the war was a tragic mistake and it never should have been authorized."

Mrs. Clinton's vote is the one issue that has been dogging her thus far in the campaign. Otherwise, enthusiastic crowds have been giving her standing ovations on her proposals covering everything from health care to energy dependency. Mr. Obama told reporters that his early opposition to the war is proof positive that "it was possible to make judgments that this would not work out well" and that it speaks "to the kind of judgment that I will be bringing to the office of president."

"I am not clear on how she would proceed at this point to wind down the war in a specific way," Mr. Obama told the Associated Press in an interview. "I know that she's stated that she thinks the war should end by the start of the next president's first term. Beyond that, though, how she wants to accomplish that, I'm not clear on."

Obama has plenty of company on this point, albeit from the primary's peanut galleries. Joe Biden also has described Hillary's position on the war as incoherent, and he's the leading Senate authority on incoherence. Hillary can expect more of the same from every candidate in the race who didn't serve in Congress in October 2002, because it's an easy shot and one that pays dividends with the Left-leaning activists, especially on line.

Six months ago, Hillary seemed so inevitable that people wondered whether she would face much competition for the nomination at all. Now the party seems intent on kneecapping Hillary to the extent that she may not recover for the general election. In fact, the growing split between the antiwar activists and their quest for authenticity in their nominee may well presage their move to a third-party candidate if Hillary does win the nomination. Ralph Nader may look very attractive after a primary defined by Hillary's Iraq War vote.

Predictably, Hillary attempted to turn her campaign towards Bush-hatred instead of answering Obama. She claimed that she wanted to run a positive campaign, but immediately followed that by telling her audience that she knows what high-ranking Republicans, including Karl Rove and Tom DeLay, say in private conversations about her. She told supporters that the GOP fears her candidacy most of all.

I'd say they viewed it as an inevitability, but the GOP certainly would fear an Obama campaign more than Hillary. She comes with too many negatives, and she will find it easier to win the primaries than to convince enough people to support her in the general election, even outside of her Iraq War vote. Obama presents a more difficult target for Republicans -- a warm, likable cipher who can define himself due to his thin political resumé. They would be smart to fear Bill Richardson, who has a more impressive track record than Obama and Hillary put together and who has much more attraction for moderates and centrists.

But the one thing the GOP most feared was a coronation season for the Democrats rather than a contested primary. That fear appears unfounded.

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