Friday, February 22, 2008

It is now or never for Clinton

It seems like Sen. Hillary Clinton has become a footnote between Sen. Barack Obama's victory speeches as he steamrolls through yet another string of victories in the Democratic primary.
The Clinton camp was expecting these losses in February, and they come as no surprise to anyone. However, Clinton needs to stay relevant in the campaign. She cannot afford to continue being mentioned as the runner-up who is pinning her hopes on Texas and Ohio. The Clinton campaign has to break Obama's momentum in order to remain competitive till the looming showdown over super delegates and resolution of Michigan and Florida delegates emerges.

One can safely assume Clinton and her surrogates are working under the radar to court the uncommitted super delegates and preparing for the fight over Florida and Michigan. Although these are necessary steps, Clinton has to get in the spotlight and separate herself from Obama and give voters a clear choice.

This phony live and let live campaign style that Obama and Clinton have employed is killing Clinton. Currently the policy differences betweeen the two are microscopic, and the race has been reduced to a popularity contest. Likeability is not a battle Hillary Clinton is going to win anytime soon. The Clinton camp is pushing for a debate in Texas before the primary there, and if she gets a chance to debate Obama she has to take Obama head-on. The love affair of the last debate gets her nowhere.

It is hard to attack the darling of the media whose platform is an abstract, non-specific theme that cannot be proven either way. Rep. Patrick Kennedy said so much in an interview where he said "what Sen. Obama offers cannot be put on a resume." Obama uses his experience as a community organizer in Chicago (another disprovable concept in terms of his effectiveness as the organizer) as a qualification to be President. In any other election cycle this would be a laughable proposition, but he is able to pull it off. His other and only real experience includes essentially discussing potholes in the Illinois legislature for seven years during which he did not stand out in any way.

Hillary Clinton has to make the case that change and experience are not mutually exclusive concepts. She has to point out that Obama is just another politician who has played it safe in both the Illinois State and US Senates for political benefit. He did not make an iota of difference in Chicago for over seven years and yet expects voters to take his word about changing the country.

Clinton also has to differentiate herself from Obama's policies or at least offer specifics about troop withdrawals and dealing with the war on terror. She has to offer ideas on how to deal with the problems facing the country that are concrete and different from Obama's. She needs to raise a new issue in the campaign (countering China, for example) and hammer it down. She should tout her First Lady experience as well as her Senate record before Obama got to the Senate.

Clinton needs to counter Obama's attacks about her vote for the war. He gave a non-consequential speech about the war, and his actions had no effect on anything. Once in the Senate, Obama has not backed up his anti-war stance by voting against funding or introducing a bill to withdraw troops. It won't be easy, but she has to sell that point to the voters. Finally, Clinton has to compete in Wisconsin even though she will probably lose there. Wisconsin can be used as a testing ground to attack Obama on his weaknesses.

The tide is with Obama right now, especially with respect to foreign affairs. Iraq is stable, Iran and North Korea are behaving themselves and no major foreign incident has occurred since the death of Benazir Bhutto that would expose Obama's inexperience and naivety. It is up to Hillary to remind the voters that it will not stay calm forever and when things change, stabilization will require real experience which only she offers.


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