Wednesday, February 21, 2007

And Round One Goes To ... John Edwards

Presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama engaged in political combat for the first time today. Maureen Dowd reported in her New York Times column that David Geffen, a Hollywood mogul and former ally of the Clintons is raising money for Senator Obama.

Geffen teamed with fellow Tinsle Town tycoons Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg yesterday to collect $1.3 million for Obama at a fundraising party. As Geffen noted, Dowd had harsh comments for the presumed Democratic frontrunner:

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“Not since the Vietnam War has there been this level of disappointment in the behavior of America throughout the world, and I don’t think that another incredibly polarizing figure, no matter how smart she is and no matter how ambitious she is — and God knows, is there anybody more ambitious than Hillary Clinton? — can bring the country together.”
On her Illinois rival Geffen said,

“Obama is inspirational, and he’s not from the Bush royal family or the Clinton royal family. Americans are dying every day in Iraq. And I’m tired of hearing James Carville on television.”
For good measure he added,

“It’s not a very big thing to say, ‘I made a mistake’ on the war, and typical of Hillary Clinton that she can’t. She’s so advised by so many smart advisers who are covering every base. I think that America was better served when the candidates were chosen in smoke-filled rooms.”
I didn’t think much of Dowd’s column this morning. Geffen’s disenchantment with the Clintons is old news and it’s not suprising some donors are open to alternatives beyond restoring the Clintons to the throne. What really captured my attention was the heavy handed and ungraceful response from the Clinton campaign.

Communications Director Howard Wolfson made the Geffen fundraiser event bigger news with this comment,

“If Senator Obama is indeed sincere about his repeated claims to change the tone of our politics, he should immediately denounce these remarks, remove Mr. Geffen from his campaign and return his money.”
The response gives the impression of lacking grace under pressure and suggests the Clintons feel threatened. Successful politicians typically follow the tag line from the old deodorant commercial, “never let them see you sweat.” Bill Clinton was a master at the game. Today, Hillary Clinton's spokesman Howard Wolfson made her appear weak with his overreaction.

Wolfson has forgotten about more political skirmishes than most political operatives have participated in. His clumsy response however gave Obama Communications Director Robert Gibbs an easy rejoinder,

"It is ironic that the Clintons had no problem with David Geffen when he was raising them $18 million and sleeping at their invitation in the Lincoln bedroom.”
Gibbs also gleefully pointed out that, Hillary Clinton had not condemned the comments of South Carolina state Sen. Robert Ford. Ford, a Clinton supporter. Ford claimed the Democratic ticket was "doomed" if Obama was the party's presidential candidate. Translation: Democrats better not nominate a black man.

While the Clinton camp came across as heavy handed and hypocritical, Senator Obama’s team kept their composure with a measured response. Tactically, Obama prevailed but the real winner is John Edwards.

It serves Edwards best to fly underneath the radar for a spell while Clinton and Obama trade punches. In 2004, Edwards found traction as Richard Gephardt and Howard Dean destroyed each other in Iowa while he remained sunny. Governor Bill Clinton valuted from third place to the presidency in 1992, when Ross Perot and the first President Bush hurled rhetorical grenades at each other. The future President proceeded to promote his “People First” agenda with specifics while Bush and Perot took each other out.

Similarly, Edwards is served by the Clintons focusing their guns on Obama. If it continues, Edwards can deliver his retooled populist message and keep himself above negative campaigning. Hillary Clinton comes off as shrill and insecure while Edwards appears comfortable about acknowledging error over Iraq and courageous in putting forward a specific plan for universal healthcare. And while Obama’s campaign was tactically efficient, their theme of a fresh politics above invective was knocked off message.

Hence, I give this first round to John Edwards. If there are many more rounds like today, Edwards will win Iowa. Sadly, while all this horse race positioning continues, more blood is being shed in Iraq and America’s geopolitical standing is deteriorating. And no candidate in either party is offering any solutions beyond platitudes.

1 comment:

Aaron said...

It will be intriguing to see how much more Clinton and Obama battle. If they try to go toe to toe, I am not sure how much Obama will be able to keep up with an experienced politician like Clinton. But Obama has the charisma to also come out on top.

Edwards is in a really good position right now, flying under the radar but what does this do to his fundraising ability?