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October 01, 2007


I know it's becoming redundant to say, but it's still early. Obama has just started to strengthen the contrast pretty directly the past week or so since the last debate (see his comments on the Clinton dynasty, his use of the Bill Clinton quote on experience, etc).

It seems like a sound strategy to me: stay super positive throughout the fundraising months to fill your campaign coffers with $80 mil without offending too many contributors, then strengthen the contrast between yourself and the front runner right when people start paying attention.

I doubt he'll go nasty negative with unflattering black-and-white photos and unfair ad hominem attacks over scary music (I hope not), but the sharp and honest contrasts are already starting to come out and will likely become more prominent as the campaigning heats up.

I agree with Brendan that negative campaigning has gotten a bad name. There's a distinction to be drawn between unfair, misleading, ad hominem negative campaigning and campaigning that compares the candidates' positions and qualities, points out the other candidate's record, and shows why the other candidate would be a poor choice. That's useful information that voters crave.

Office-seekers who have neglected their duties or voted in ways that their constiuents would find objectionable or acted in ways that might cause one to question their sincerity or believability are not entitled to a free pass. Good negative advertising puts these issues in the public arena, and by doing so it holds our public officials to account for their actions--and that's a very good thing for the proper functioning of our government.

How will voters know whether negative compaigning is substantive or not? Who knows what really is true any more? I find it odd Brendan defends negative campaigning, regardless of it's effectiveness, because of his research on the downfalls of PR.

Ad reactions get spun the same way, whether it's the truth, half-truth or vicious lie. And seeing as one tactic of negative advertising is to instill irrational fear about a candidate (The 'Daisy' ad, anyone?), the only one it seems to benefit is the candidate using it.

During the primary race there is one other reason not to avoid the fair style of negative campaigning that Rob describes: In the general election the opponent will NOT hesitate to attack.

If a party hopes to win then, it should field a candidate who is prepared to survive a vicious onslaught and deliver one in return. If Obama and Edwards fail to test Hillary's negatives now (are they thinking of the VP slot?), it may lead to a poorer Democratic showing next fall.

Hillary is poised to win in November. The movement of the youth vote to the Democrats is probably too big a factor for any Republican to overcome. Thus the only person who can beat Hillary is Hillary herself by making mistakes.

Bill will be a huge help to her on the attack, but her two campaigns to date have been cakewalks. And that is why Democrats ought to test her now.

But what negative thing can he say that has not been said over and over again? Ever since the Clintons started in politics she's been dragged through the mud by nearly anyone, from those who objected to her baking cookies in front of the camera to those who speculate she's a lesbian.
If Obama's proposals are really that close to Clinton's, he can't say anything about her without turning into Ann Coulter, and nobody on the Democratic side would ever vote for her!

Commenter Marie asks,

"But what negative thing can he (Obama) say (about Hillary Clinton) that has not been said over and over again?"

If the Democratic primary race continues its non-confrontational way, next fall many people will hear things about Clinton they have never heard before. Perhaps we internet addicts have already heard these things, but most voters will find the charges fresh.

For example, her general election challenger will have the advertising money to show voters the connection between Clinton and groups like Media Matters. If voters come to understand this issue, the effect could be significant.

A more obvious example is Clinton's statements over the years on the war. If her challenger puts her statements together and highlights their somewhat contradictory features, the effect could also be significant.

My point is that it's PROBABLY better for Clinton's prospects if these attacks happen during the primary race. Clinton can get her responses well-honed that way. And, by the time the general rolls around, the charges may have achieved an old smell which will allow them to be more easily ignored by the newspaper, news magazine and TV media at a time when more people are paying attention.

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