Hillary Clinton had run a disciplined, mistake-free campaign for the first nine months of 2007. She had been able to portray herself as an experienced candidate for change. By contrast, the Obama campaign had an anemic nine months on the campaign trail without a clear message or momentum. Mrs. Clinton had Obama in a tough political spot.
To remain competitive in the race, Barack Obama needed to attack Mrs. Clinton as a candidate. The attack ads and negative campaigning would have left Obama open to criticism of abandoning his campaign’s primary theme of hope. It would challenge his assertion that he was a different kind of politician and it would appear to the voting public as a cynical attempt by him to get back in the race. Obama would look desperate and Hillary Clinton’s candidacy for the Democratic nomination would be inevitable.
However, Obama never had to go “negative” because Mrs. Clinton started making a series of unforced mistakes. Her political mistakes from late September through early December have allowed the Obama campaign to surge into the lead in the first voting state of Iowa. In addition Obama has moved back into contention in the state primary in New Hampshire.
Clinton started her parade of mistakes in the debate of September 26, 2007. Her handling of a hypothetical question on terrorist torture from moderator Tim Russert was inconsistent with answers she has given on that same question posed to her in the past.
The mistakes continued for Hillary in the Democratic debate of October 30, 2007. Her answer to a debate question concerning granting illegal aliens drivers licenses was incoherent. She appeared to take a position on both sides of the issue within about sixty seconds. Her performance validated her Democratic opponent’s claim that she was trying to parse her position on issues and have it both ways.
Next, Bill Clinton showed up stumping for votes for Hillary in Iowa to remind us how slick and parsing he can be. In Iowa, it was all about Bill and little about Hillary on the campaign trail. Bill even tried to convince us that he was against the Iraq war from the beginning, which is clearly not true. It sounded like Bill Clinton was running again and reminded the voting public about the fact that in electing Hillary, we would get Team Clinton back for President in the White House. This back to the future Clinton reminder to the voting public did not go over well.
Then, the voters got to see a Hillary Clinton interview with Katie Couric. This interview should have been a positive thing for Hillary. However, her poll numbers continued to drop after her appearance. In this interview, Hillary told Katie Couric that she has never contemplated losing this election. That she had not even considered the possibility that she would lose. The manner which she handle that question appeared presumptious to many voters. In fact, it fed into the negative image many people have of Hillary’s need and hunger for power. It was a continuation of the impression that she would say anything to win.
These mistakes from the Hillary Clinton campaign have helped to tighten the Democratic race for the 2008 Presidential nomination just weeks before the first vote is to be cast in Iowa. Barrack Obama clearly has the momentum in the race. Now it will be Hillary Clinton who will have to go negative to try and slow his campaign down.
For Obama to win the Democratic Presidential nomination in 2008, he must win Iowa in a decisive fashion. He also must win in New Hampshire or Hillary Clinton will absorb the Iowa defeat and move on. If Obama wins in Iowa and New Hampshire, Hillary Clinton would be reeling and John Edwards would be out of the race. The Edwards vote would probably move to Obama and he would have a chance to defeat Clinton, one-on-one in the subsequent primaries. Democratic voters would certainly be questioning Hillary’s prospects as a candidate against the Republican Presidential nominee in the general election in 2008. A primary election battle between Clinton and Obama could go unresolved for weeks since Obama has the campaign war chest to contest Clinton in every primary state.
An Obama victory against Hillary Clinton is still a long shot. However, a series of unforced Hillary Clinton mistakes since September 26, 2007 have allowed Obama to remain competitive. Indeed, the result of her political mistakes have, at the very least, given Barack Obama’s campaign of hope a prayer.