Chicago Sun-Times
The scoop from Washington

Sweet column: Clinton staffer Mike Henry made issue of Obama present votes in 2004 Illinois senate campaign. Resurrected this week.

| 7 Comments

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.

7 Comments

There may be more at play within the Clinton camp than mere lust for a fight over a discredited argument: I believe Mrs. Clinton has come to the conclusion that the only way to defeat Barack Obama is to stop him in Iowa even at the cost of driving up Hillary's own negatives.
If both lose Iowa as likely through Clinton's suicidal but also destructive smear campaign, the calculation is that Mrs. Clinton will still prevail everywhere else - John Edwards would not have the resources to fight on and Obama would have hit a roadblock. This appears to me to be the tough and coolheaded calculation Mrs. Clinton is making. Only time will tell if this was one more example of her questionable judgment.

I only saw comments from Planned Parenthood. Surely there are more pro-choice leaders than that.

It really doesn't matter who works for who now does it?
This issue is about much more than "votes" and pro-choice groups -- it's about women's lives. When Obama and others voted present on those horrible bills they sent a message to women that they didn't matter. Obama did not keep his promise to us and that he strategized to cover for his friends. He led us to believe that we could expect more of him; that he would represent change. Instead we got the same old, same old.
When he strategized with Planned Parenthood, he left women out of the debate. He followed the direction of one organization -- an organization that provides abortion and tends to speak without consulting others. While they are key partners in the movement they don't own it. Obama should have known that too. He should know what he says should match what he does and that what he does is important.
We know Obama and others would like to minimize the issue by blaming it on Hull or Illinois NOW or Planned Parenthood but someone who wants to be President shouldn't have to hide behind lobbyists and endorsements to explain his record.

Right now focus is on Hillary as front-runner. If Barack wins Iowa and/or New Hampshire and/or South Carolina, focus will turn toward him. Credibility and experience will be key.
Voters have right to ask and get straight answers to--
What have you actually accomplished during your tenures as
Community Organizer, State Senator and U.S. Senator?
Do you genuinely have the depth and breadth of experience to
be President?

Very interesting article. Thanks, Lynn.

Hillary's gamble is that by going negative, she could end up finishing a distant third like Dean in 2004, resulting in a media narrative that kills her campaign (even without a "scream").

Here's hoping that's EXACTLY what happens so the rest of the campaign can be one of IDEAS between Edwards and Obama. With the corporatist, lobbyist-lovin', DLC "Democrat" out of the way, the issue for Democratic voters would become just how much reform we want and are ready for....

From reading this article I realize what MR Norvak said about Clinton, that they have some dirty on Obama but did not want to use it. Many of the media brush Norvak comment. saying it is not true because he cannot be trusted. Well Now I see that Norvak is right. Never mind of him being a republican but this time he got it right. Who said that Clinton will not use any smear tatic for the primary. She would have not if she was going to win the primary with no challenger. Now that she see that her thought was wrong she has gone to the play book in old politics. Thanks Lynn for letting me think that Norvark was right all along. Clinton was waiting for the time to use smear tatic at her advantage and she has. She does not care if her negative went high if only she can stop Obama in Iowa she will think that she will be where she thought she will be win the primary by her play book. I don't care pro-life or not Hillary has a lot of baggage to carry along. I don't care how the republican may look now but if Hillary wins the primary I bet she will loss the presidency. Let her continue the smear tatic the more she does so the more the country will get tired of her.

Leave a comment

Get the Sweet widget

More widgets

Video

Lynn Sweet

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

Stay in touch

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on December 5, 2007 2:12 PM.

Sweet blog: NPR News and Iowa Radio Democratic Dec. 4 Debate. Transcript. was the previous entry in this blog.

Sweet special: Ellen DeGeneres talks to Jenna Bush. Jenna wants to meet Chelsea. Transcript. is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.