DES MOINES, IA.—White House hopeful Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) Thursday night mounted his most forceful argument to date that he is more electable than chief rival Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), demonized by Republicans and used as their punching bag for more than a decade.
Obama, not mentioning Clinton by name, said he could appeal to Republican and Independent voters in a general election because he has no history of “generating anger among Republicans.”
“…I think there are a lot of disaffected Republicans, a lot of Independents who are Republican leaning who are really disappointed and so they are willing to give us a chance. But in order for us to take advantage of that opportunity I think we’ve got to have to have a candidate who can bridge some of those divides,” Obama said.
The electability factor could be a crucial factor in this first caucus state, where voters may decide to pick the candidate on Jan. 3 not who they like the best or agree with, but who they gauge has the best chance of winning the 2008 general election.
GOP presidential contenders have already been aiming darts at Clinton, the national front-runner who is in a deadlock with Obama and former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) in Iowa. Edwards, Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Ct.) and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson have been raising the question of whether Clinton could go on to win crucial swing states if she clinches the Democratic nomination.
“I’ve got a track record of being able to get Democrats and Republicans working together, or at least not generating anger among Republicans,” Obama told a crowd who filled the Skate Pit in the small town of Knoxville, Ia.
He made his comments in reply to a man who asked, “tell me one thing about yourself that makes you the most electable Democrat in the general election.”
Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs confirmed later Thursday night that the crisp remarks Obama made in Knoxville was the most forceful argument he has mounted to date on the electabilty question.
Clinton’s reputation as a polarizing figure could create a backlash to her candidacy with the Democratic concern playing out like this: Clinton at the top of the ticket could rally Republicans and turn out the GOP vote, dragging down other Democrats running in swing or GOP leaning turf.
A USA Today Gallup poll published on Thursday suggested that in a general election, “Clinton has the least potential for winning votes from Republicans—84 percent say they definitely would not vote for her, compared with six in 10 for either Obama or Edwards. Independents show the least resistance to Obama and the most to Edwards.”
Obama scores high in likeability in other presidential polls. He told the Knoxville man his approval among Republicans in Illinois was so strong that “if Democrats didn’t vote in Illinois, I’d still be the U.S. Senator.”
“During this past election season 2006, I campaigned for more members of Congress than any other person and probably raised more money more except maybe Bill Clinton,” said Obama. “And the reason was that folks would invite me to places they couldn’t invite other Democrats. I went to campaign for (Sen.) Ben Nelson in Omaha, Nebraska. He did not invite a single other Democrat to campaign for him.
“I’ve got appeal that goes beyond our party. And part of it has to do, it is not because of the positions I take are more conservative, but I do think it has to do with the tone that I use and people have a sense that I listen to other folks, that I am not trying to stir up and score political points all the time.
“I think the other side trusts me to at least be honest about how I am approaching problems. And so I’ve got a track record of being able to get Democrats and Republicans working together, or at least not generating anger among Republicans.
“And that’s I think, going to be important in this upcoming election. Because we’ve got an opportunity, Democrats I think have an opportunity in this election to actually get the country to, to come together in a way that we have not had for a long time precisely because of the failures of George Bush.
“I think there are a lot of disaffected Republicans, a lot of Independents who are Republican leaning who are really disappointed and so they are willing to give us a chance. But in order for us to take advantage of that opportunity I think we’ve got to have to have a candidate who can bridge some of those divides. Ok?”