February 23, 2007

Who Wins In The Democratic Feud?

The eruption of hostilities between the Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama campaigns this week potentially creates an opening for another candidate to exploit to match or best the two front-runners. Josh Gerstein makes the case that John Edwards will gain the most traction from a Hillary-Barack feud, relying on a man with unfortunate experience in campaign meltdowns:

As the dust settles from the first showdown between the presidential campaigns of Senators Clinton and Obama, political analysts are wondering who will benefit from protracted wrangling between the two top contenders for the Democratic nomination.

A former senator of North Carolina, John Edwards, is emerging as one potential beneficiary of the spat that broke out over critical comments from a Hollywood supporter of Mr. Obama, David Geffen.

Mr. Edwards "is clearly adept at letting two other candidates go after each other and slipping up the middle," a Democratic campaign adviser, Joseph Trippi, said.

As campaign manager for Governor Dean in 2004, Mr. Trippi witnessed such a scenario firsthand. After leading in Iowa polls, Dr. Dean and Richard Gephardt got into a war of words and television ads, allowing Senator Kerry of Massachusetts and Mr. Edwards to surge into first and second place on caucus day.

Analysts said the scuffle over Mr. Geffen's comments does not necessarily portend months of fighting between the camps of Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama. However, Mr. Trippi said such exchanges can become self-perpetuating, as each campaign struggles to get the last word. "When it does something you may not want, or you want to break the embrace, you can't," he said.

I tend to think that Hillary's crankiness will last longer than most analysts think, partly because I believe it to be deliberate. Democrats complained loudly after the 2004 election that John Kerry had lost because he had not hit back at critics such as the Swift Boat veterans. That questionable bit of analysis has blossomed into an axiom among Democrats, who now tend to value combativeness over coherence and policy.

If anyone doubts this, just look at the reaction to Edwards when confronted with Amanda Marcotte's rather blatant anti-Christian writings. Instead of encouraging Edwards to do what most campaigns do when they make a bad hire -- cut the person loose -- the netroots and activists within the party threatened to withhold their support unless Edwards showed he would fight back against the right-wing noise machine. Edwards backed away from firing Marcotte, only to get stung again when she made more anti-Christian comments on her personal blog days later.

For that reason, I don't think Edwards really benefits from the Hillary-Barack feud. The one person who benefits most so far is Barack Obama. He has parried the Clinton campaign's barbs with classy demurrals and a steadfast refusal to allow her to dictate how his supporters speak publicly. Obama had no real standing against the Clinton machine before this, but he has shown that he won't get flustered when under attack from one of the biggest media machines in American politics. Hillary is the one looking flustered.

Other than Obama, my guess is that Bill Richardson will win a few points if he can keep his lips off of Hillary's posterior long enough. While all of the neophytes continue to demonstrate their lack of experience by tangling with each other so soon in a ridiculously extended primary season, the Democrats may soon look for a more experienced political hand to take the reins. Richardson doesn't need to make his move now or for another six months. If the Hillary and Obama campaigns continue to operate like the Hatfields and the McCoys until the fall, Richardson could then start rising above the fray and demonstrate leadership, maturity, and experience -- and leave the kiddies in the sandbox where they belong.

And if that happens, the Republicans will find themselves in a tough general election. Richardson has the best resumé in the race from either party, and he will attract a large number of moderates and independents, especially if he faces a movement conservative in November 2008.


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[image] From FOX News: Hillary Clinton, Obama in Hot Exchange Over Hollywood Heavyweight's Comments. The war of words between leading 2008 Democratic presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama spread Wednesday night, after the campaigns ha... [Read More]