WASHINGTON—That a 2008 Democratic presidential rival would make an issue of Sen. Barack Obama’s present votes while an Illinois state senator could not have been a big surprise to Obama’s campaign, especially given who a key staffer is on the rival Clinton team.
Obama’s present votes were used against him when he ran for U.S. Senate in the 2004 Democratic Illinois primary, in one of the few negative hits aimed at him in that contest.
The 2004 Illinois senate candidate who publicly pushed the present vote issue the hardest was Blair Hull. Clinton’s deputy campaign manager is Mike Henry, who managed Hull’s Illinois campaign.
(By the way, with the Jan. 3 caucus night approaching, Henry is spending more of his time in Iowa.)
Earlier this week, while campaigning in Iowa, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), taking aim at Obama said “Well, in the Illinois State Senate, on issue after issue, my opponent voted “present,” instead of yes or no. Seven of those votes were on a woman’s right to choose. Two of those votes were on measures to protect families from gun violence - one of which was a measure about firing guns on or near school grounds.
“A President can’t vote “present.” A President can’t pick and choose which challenges he or she will face. My opponent’s campaign said that voting “present” was a strategy to provide political cover. The Chicago Tribune said the present votes were the equivalent of taking a pass. Instead of looking for political cover or taking a pass, we need a President who will take a stand and stand there and do whatever is necessary for their country,” Clinton said.
Henry, back in 2004, when he was working for Hull, orchestrated a series of mailings to Illinois voters which referenced the Obama present votes on abortion with a picture of a duck and “He ducked” in the headline. The mailings came out just before the March, 2004 Illinois primary so they would be hard to rebut. By the time the mailings came out, Mo Elleithee, a one-time Hull campaign spokesman --had already left the Hull campaign. I mention this because Elleithee is now Clinton’s chief Iowa spokesman.
But in 2008—as in 2004—most of Illinois’ pro-choice leaders (with the exception in 2004 and 2008 of Illinois NOW; Illinois NOW is backing Clinton) defended the Obama present votes on several key abortion measures as part of a strategy to give cover to other lawmakers who did not come from safe districts.
Every one of Obama’s 2004 Democratic opponents who did opposition research had the Obama present votes in their oppo book.
So did Republican Jack Ryan, who dropped out of the race and Alan Keyes, his replacement. Keyes brought up the present votes but the charge did not get any traction since by then Keyes had already destroyed his credibility.
Hull had a series of mailings on the “ducked” vote micro-targeting to several audiences and another candidate, Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas is quoted as bringing it up at least once. By and large, the Illinois reporters covering the 2004 senate race never played up the Obama present votes.
Why would the Clinton campaign think it can stick?
*Hull used it late in the race—days before the vote--when he was already sinking because the allegations of spousal abuse had surfaced. Hull was already out of contention.
*Hull was the wrong messenger...think spousal abuse.
*Clinton brought it out a month before the Jan. 3 Iowa caucus. And she will have more validators to repeat the message.
*The races—2004 and 2008 are fundamentally different.