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Sweet column: Obama's hardball campaign.

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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)
JE 527

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.

9 Comments

Does the "HF" after Darfur investments stand for hedge fund? I can't think of anything oppo-wise or reporter/news outlet wise that could stand for HF...

what that woman in NH doesn't understand is that when you are running against the dirtiest and most unethical politician in Washington, you gotta fight back.
To continue to stay above the fray will damage him as people will and do think he is soft and cannot fight against republicans (hillary included).
It is one thing to want to change politics as usual but, you first got to get to where you are going to do so. If that means getting in the mud and going after your rival then you get in and get dirty.
Most of his supporters understand this. We would rather he go after the witch, er, Hillary, and prove his mettle and ability to fight with the best of them and win than stay above the fray and lose and have a wishy washy rep.
Tell Obama to go for it.

Arlen- - "the dirtiest and most unethical politician in Washington" is not Hillary Clinton-The only way you would think that is if you watch Fox and listen to Rush and his right wing press buddies- Give facts please-oops there are none. By calling her a witch etc. you show how uneducated and irrelevant you are. Wish you folks would go back to school and learn to read before you spout off.

So much for the new kind of campaign that Obama pledged to run. When he couldn’t back up the hype with substance, he resorted to politics as usual – very disappointing.

If the Obama campaign was not busy securing its flanks and probing the weaknesses of its opponents, he would have been out of the race already. There is no doubt about it, he is up against the nastiest part of the Democratic political machine. But it is good practice for the coming battle against the Republican machine.

So it is up to his staff and supporters to take up most of the effort to counter the spin and dirty tricks. But once in a while he has to lead his own defense and show that he is up to the rough and tumble of a presidential campaign and Washington politics.

Fortunately, there are more than enough counters to go the full 15 rounds in this prizefight between Barack and Hillary, as the Clinton's have left a long, littered trail of questionable behavior and practices. As a former admirer of Bill Clinton's political skills, I would say in the style of Jerry McGuire, they "lost me on goodbye" on the last day of his Administration. And the voters have yet to hear the full stories on her earmarks as a Senator, and his contracts and investments since leaving office.

That lady in NH may be disappointed in the fact that the campaign is not up to her good housekeeping standards. But the unfortunate truth is that if you are too nice, the media call you a "wuss" and when you are tough you're a "cowboy", even if neither name is fair or accurate.

I would love for my suggestions to reach someone on the Obama advisory team for consideration and comment - David Axelrod would be great.

I have been following his campaign mainy through google news - search string "Obama". I have been reading through at least 12 stories a day for the last 3 month, and have noticed that this month the number of Anti - Obama stories has been steadily increasing (especially with an increase in the gap in the national polls). Based on this trend I've been tempted to draw the following conclusions:

The Hillary Clinton campaign / republican wing is influencing the associated press and major news media organizations and so have pursued a campaign to sink Obama in negative publicity - especially by spinning his words with often insufficient sound bites.

The associated press and major news media organizations have of their own accord endorsed Hillary Clinton - maybe for the benefits they see in her politics (namely open lobbying - a majority of the ads on CNN are insurance companies).

Though it is good for a candidate to remain steady and unmoved by every nuance of main stream reaction. The idea of inevitability around Hillary Clinton is a problem.

To gain ground quickly I have a few suggestions for campain strategy (I am a television producer).

1. Obama should use highly rated television sit downs to jump over reporters and speak to the people directly - reporters interpret and translate what's said to the masses often in skewd perspectives or with agenda. But if you want to explain most clearly your policies to the people and let them know your personality - he should do alot more television programs with high ratings (prime time)... to explain his positions eg. Oprah.. Meet the Press.. Today Show.. Larry King.. basically every sit down tv show one by one. Let them tackle at least one issue per show. It's a great way to cover a lot of ground in a short time, and then the AP and main stream news will have to maintain some objectivity in reporting on a show that everyone saw. Note. Hillary Clinton will be on Ellen D. show soon, and this is approx 2 weeks post the LGBT meeting. It is relevant.

2. Obama needs to sound more knowledgable of the history of past policies and his issues on the campaign trail. It reassures people of your experience and qualifications when you can communicate to them why the system is broken in a more detail way by including some of the problems faced. This is where Hillary Clinton is beating him. She is sounding knowlegable and it is reassuring voters that she is more competent. Advice him to sit with advisers / experienced senators WHO KNOW - for indept WASHINGTON history lessons. He doesn't have to sound long winded as she does, but more facts of the past and where he's going to go. After all YOU CANNOT COMMUNICATE CHANGING WASHINGTON IF IT APPEARS LIKE YOU HAVE LITTLE IDEA ABOUT THE COMPLEXITIES AND PAST OF WHAT YOU ARE TRYING TO CHANGE. People might be left with that impression and they will eventually not buy into it. BUT.... HE DOES NOT HAVE TO LIVE IN WASHINGTON TO KNOW ABOUT THE PAST OF WASHINGTON. So he needs history lessons. How does his steps fit together to get to America to the goal (in more detail). Everybody wants peace on earth and change.. sure.. we know.. but what next?

I am sure you are hearing most of these suggestions already or David Axelrod has his own game plan.

God speed Obama.

Bonnie-- it was vwcat who said that, not me. Our names are posted below our comments, not above. I posted the hedge fund comment.

Playing hardball? Fine game if you play by the rules. The criticism starts when you bring in steroids, corked bats, gambling and the rest. Draw parallels as you see them with politics, but I don't see Obama or his staff being guilty of that sort of thing.

With Karl Rove's resignation in the news we're reminded of the kind of unfair compaigning tactics we don't want to see: John McCain being accused of fathering an illegitimate black child. Ann Richards's staff being accused of being 'dominated by lesbians'. Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. All the Lee Atwater-style sleazy 'politicking' the Republicans have chosen to rely on more and more over the years.

No, I haven't noticed Team Obama doing anything like the above. 'Comment is free, but facts are sacred'. Looks to me like Team Obama has been sticking to the facts, not making them up.
As long as their criticism of opponents is honest and reality-based, it's okay.

The bottom line here is that Obamma just does not have the record to run on so he needs to tear down the frontrunner in the party. Hillary is tried and tested and there is no disputing that. Look what she did in NY. She moves to a state where she has never lived. She ran for Senate in that state and won by a narrow margin. By the time her second term as a Senator came up there were no Republicans willing to run against her because it was hopeless. The Republicans put up a sacraficial candidate and Hillary won by a landslide BECAUSE people saw how genuine she was during her first term. Did you see all the counties that changed in favor of her during her second run? New Yorkers see that, in spite of all the attacks and mud that has been slung on the Clintons, they actually DO care about the middle class. The Clintons actually DO CARE about healthcare for ALL Americans. The Clintons DO CARE about finding common ground with the other parties and making progress on tough issues. So the Clintons are able to go over the isle and work with the Republicans on salient issues and make as much progress as then can as oppose to not working with them and staying stagnant and on the wrong track as a country. Who would have believed there would be a day when Bill and Bush Sr. would be working on some of the same issues and walking together through our cities? Sure Clinton could just forget Bush Sr. as he has kind of become an irrelevant figure today, but he see's the benefit of them working together for a common good. I can't even fathom their private conversations and what Bush Sr. really says about his own son's leadership.

Fact of the matter is, Barack isn't winning on any front. The polls don't reflect it, the fundraising doesn't reflect it. He can't run on record because he has such a small one and it isn't all good. He, therefore, has to resort to tearing his candidate down. Hillary responds and he gets all whines, but she doesn't START it. She talks about the issues. Listen to her. LISTEN..she doesn't attack him, she callls him out on his personal attacks and that just isn't the same. You can attack Bill all you want, but times were certainly better under his leadership. At least you know who he is, who the heck is Baracks partner and what do they do or stand for?

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on August 14, 2007 4:33 PM.

Sweet blog extra: White House hits Clinton new ad: "outrageous." was the previous entry in this blog.

Sweet column: Onward Christian Obama. is the next entry in this blog.

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