WASHINGTON — White House hopeful Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) is on GQ magazine’s cover with author Ryan Lizza’s long article titled “Above the Fray” inside. This more than 7,000-word narrative buries how Obama’s chief spokesman had a list posted in his office of stories the campaign “was pushing or anticipating” about rivals Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.).
Writes Lizza, “Obama knows Hillary is not going to collapse of her own accord. To close the gap, you have to yank her down a little.”
I wrote in my blog last June that Obama’s campaign, staffed with veteran Washington operatives, seeks to portray Obama as above the fray and as an outsider candidate of change. I wrote this after the Obama campaign got caught pushing a negative research memo aimed at the Clintons. It was headlined, “Hillary Clinton (D-Punjab)’s personal financial and political ties to India.”
Obama’s campaign has an opposition research department; that’s routine for campaigns. Obama is merely doing political business as usual. At the same time a central theme for Obama on the stump and in speeches is that his campaign is different and that it’s “time to turn the page.”
So how to reconcile hardball tactics with reality? Writes Lizza, “Part of the way the campaign deals with this bind is to separate the above-the-fray candidate from the dirty work of his operatives. Obama may be a once-in-a-generation politician, but his campaign is staffed with fairly conventional Democratic talent.” Lizza writes while visiting the office of Obama communications chief Robert Gibbs at the national headquarters on Michigan Avenue. “I couldn’t help but notice some of what he had scrawled on a whiteboard hanging on his wall:
HC Bio › NY Post
HC Travel (AP?)
Tax Returns (Balz?)
Darfur investments (HF)
HC is, of course, Hillary Clinton, and JE is John Edwards. Balz refers to Dan Balz, the lead political reporter at the Washington Post. These were obviously notes about stories the campaign was pushing or anticipating, so I asked Gibbs if his understanding was that, despite the campaign’s rhetoric, Hillary had to be actively taken down. Gibbs looked at me and smiled. “We’re not running the race thinking we’re the horse in second,” he said, “and that ultimately the horse in first is just going to stop running,” Lizza wrote.
It seems — unless I missed a clip — these anticipated stories never came to be, at least not yet.
At a restaurant in Hanover, N.H., on Monday, Obama was told by a woman that “you’ve got to stop — excuse me for being blunt — you’ve got to stop getting involved in the way people are fighting each other, chewing you up a little more,” AP reported. “That’s what you do when you run for president,” Obama responded.