Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Hillary's Gambit

Hockey is a dirty game. Even when it's played beautifully, with grace and speed, there is the inevitable cheap shot elbow to the ribs, or stick between someone's feet. Often, the provocateur gets caught and penalized, but more times than not, he (or she) won't, and many times, it's this chippy kind of play that sets up scoring opportunities.

Politics is a dirty game, too. Elbows get thrown in the corner, skates get kicked, groins get kneed. You accept this when you play because you understand the nature of the game: that everyone is trying to get to the goal (office) and can't afford to play Alfonse et Gaston games.

This week, Hillary scored a goal:
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Hillary Clinton has widened her lead over fellow Sen. Barack Obama in the race for the U.S. Democratic presidential nomination, a new poll showed on Wednesday.

The Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll also showed that if the elections were held today, either of those Democrats would beat former New York Major Rudy Giuliani, the current Republican favorite.

Forty-three percent of Democratic respondents said they preferred the New York senator and former first lady over other Democratic candidates in the 2008 contest, up from 39 percent in June, the poll showed.

That put Clinton even farther ahead of chief rival Obama, the Illinois senator who slipped from 25 percent in the June poll to 22 percent in July. Clinton and Obama have sparred in recent weeks, trading accusations last week over foreign policy positions.
How did this happen?

It's early yet, to be sure, and there's plenty of time for that lead to get chipped away, but the race is starting in earnest now, and this was a bit of a surprise, but it bodes well for Hillary's third quuarter fundraising, I think, so it bears some examination.

For my part, I think the semi-"Sister Souljah" moment for Hillary came in the recent YouTube debate. You may recall a question regarding sitting down with people we don't particularly like to negotiate with them:Obama stated categorically he would (with, I think, the inferred background work of making sure there was something to be gained from talks). Hillary jumped on this:
Clinton sensed an opening. “I will not promise to meet with the leaders of these countries during my first year,” she said, adding, “I don’t want to be used for propaganda purposes.”

Figuring she had the high ground, Clinton continued on the attack Tuesday, calling Obama’s position “irresponsible and frankly naive.”
In one short stroke, she turned around the debate, during which Obama tried very hard to paint Hillary as "Bush lite" (ouch, that was a nasty elbow!), and made Obama seem lost at sea and unprepared to deal with the world at large.

A not-too-subtle dig at his rapid rise from state legislator to a contending Presidential candidate, and a reminder that we've just had six years of someone getting on-the-job training. Talk about calling someone "Bush lite".

Many, as that last linked article implies, have said that Obama gained ground and momentum from that debate exchange, making Hillary out to be, well, "Bush lite" by continually bringing up her Iraq invasion vote, but the truth is, that story has played itself out already, particularly in the 2004 election when Kerry was called on it by Bush himself.

Too, Obama's own voting record in the Senate has mirrored Hillary's nearly perfectly on issues like funding the continuation of the invasion. Yes, there's ground to be gained in the more rube-laden sections of the left with reminders of the war and Hillary's regrettable complicity with this administration, but I think we've reached a point where people don't care about how we got there, just what we want to do about it now. In that regard, Obama has not distinguished himself from Hillary, pretty much "me-tooing" her positions.

Why this matters, at least in my analysis, is that Hillary will now start to draw the serious money that's stayed out of the race so far: it's too early to contribute, no one's scored any points, there's two or three legitimate (four, if you count Al Gore which no one seems to be doing much lately) contenders and the penalty for jumping in too early is severe if you choose the wrong horse.

By drawing up into the 40 percent range, Hillary has put this contest up on a new plateau. People cited her experience and competence as reasons for choosing her. That she took most of her new-found support from Obama is no surprise, then.

Some have called her attack a "cheap shot." I don't think it's any cheaper than what's been thrown at her from both sides of the fence. That she took a chance and scored a point is indicative to me that the vaunted Clinton team is back and is running the show again.