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Is It 'Now or Never' for Hillary Clinton?
[Opinion] Primary race intensifies as Texas, Ohio primaries approach
Alan Mota (al0021)     Print Article 
Published 2008-02-25 05:15 (KST)   
Until recently, the Democratic Party presidential primary was, above all things, a race where both presidential hopefuls kept a safe distance from each other, respecting each other and avoiding the kind of bickering that could end up ruining both candidates' chances. That was at least until the last happenings in the dispute: Barack Obama won 11 caucuses in a row, getting ahead of Clinton by nearly a hundred delegates as the race entered its final leg. The latest debate between the candidates, on Feb. 22, was considered to have been another victory for Obama, who is being widely considered the favorite for the two next primaries, which also happen to be major battles in the nomination war: Texas and Ohio, with 334 delegates, to happen on March 4.

Another important occasion on the agenda is the next debate between Hillary Clinton and Obama, scheduled for Feb. 26. Obama has gathered all the momentum he could wish for lately, and he's going into the debate with many in the media already saying that the game is over for Clinton. Even her husband, former president Bill Clinton claimed in public that the two next caucuses are "make or break" for his wife. On the other hand, the debate could be the perfect opportunity, if not the last opportunity, for Clinton to turn the game around and come out with enough credit to have a shot at winning at least one of the caucuses -- even though the game wouldn't be considered balanced unless she won both of them.

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On the face of such circumstances, it's safe to say that the next two weeks will be the period of truth for Clinton. What happens in these 15 days will effectively seal the deal in terms of the presidential race because, even though the game won't be technically over and everything is possible, a turnaround will be highly unlikely. And considering that the Republican Party already has its candidate lined up and campaigning for November, it wouldn't be unexpected to see the Democrats take a stand, even if unofficially, for Obama if it gets clear enough that he's the man for the job. So, on the face of such circumstances, Clinton must change her tactics. And she did, or so it seems.

Clinton's new strategy is not exactly pretty. She has changed the focus of her attacks on Obama from saying, rather hesitantly, that he doesn't have enough experience and that the country would simply be better off with her, to making clearly directed accusations against him.

The latest proof of such a change of mind was her rally in Ohio, 10 days before the caucus, where she accused her rival of producing a misleading leaflet on her health care policy. After saying "shame on you, Obama," she followed by comparing his supposedly unethical tactics to something "straight out of Karl Rove's playbook." Obama went out for his defense immediately, saying that not only that the mailings were accurate but that they were also sent to American homes long ago (for days, if not weeks). "It makes me think that there's something technical about her getting so exercised," Obama said.

However, the content of the mailings, regardless of how much truth they have in them, show that Obama is also not the most peaceful contender, and he's definitely not sitting around waiting for the victory to come him but going after it rather directly. The two mailings sent to Ohio homes blatantly accused Clinton and clearly aimed at putting her in a hard position for the debate next Tuesday. The one that angered Clinton the most, about health care, said that Clinton's health care plan would force Americans to purchase insurance; the other one implied that the NAFTA, which is unpopular in Ohio, was seen by Clinton as good for the economy, quoting her from a newspaper story.

From the look of the mailings, it's clear that Obama is attacking locally, under the radar, while Clinton leaves her attacks for the nationally broadcasted rallies, highly covered by the media. There's nothing wrong with both candidates attacking each other -- in a way, they should, to make it clear that they're different after all and that they have the right to disagree with someone and to debate and argue with them. The question here is: which strategy is right? Even though it's hard to determine who's attacking the right way, from the looks of things it seems that Clinton, with her public accusations, might be making the wrong impression on voters, appearing on national television to accuse her contender while Obama, when on TV, usually looks peaceful and on top of his game.

Also, her intensifying the attacks in the wake of two decisive caucuses, after losing 11 in a row without any major reaction, might have been too late. It would be surprising if, in the next polls to come, Clinton were considered to be acting out of despair in her latest appearances. The best example of how Obama seems to be in total control of the situation is his reaction to the mailings episode. "I'm puzzled by the sudden change in tone, unless they were just brought to her attention," said Obama over the accusation. He completed his defense by saying that "the notion that somehow we're engaging nefarious tactics I think is pretty hard to swallow." A much more elegant appearance, when compared to Clinton's "shame on you" scream.

Obviously, that alone doesn't mean that Obama is more balanced or better prepared than Clinton -- if he was the one trailing by almost a hundred candidates instead of her, things could be much different. But at this moment in the race, this doesn't matter. A survey released by the Davie Brown Celebrity Index (DBI), commonly used by marketers to measure the influence a certain celebrity might have in sales, rates Obama as the "most trustworthy" candidate among US consumers, scoring 12 "trust" points more than Clinton and John McCain, while scoring 15 more points than the other rivals in "appeal." What counts now is how each candidate is seen by voters as they approach the final sprint, and by getting aggressive Clinton might be not only jeopardizing her own campaign but also the aftermath of it.

Clinton must remember that the race doesn't finish in the primaries, and even if she loses, she will still have a major role not only in the presidential race but after it. Besides, she will still have the support of several delegates and her political career is far from over. Maybe by going after Obama, she can actually turn the game around -- she should be careful not to go too far though, because there might be more than just a presidential nomination at stake.
©2008 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Alan Mota

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