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Thursday, March 6, 2008

Dialing into the Clinton campaign

Posted By on Thu, Mar 6, 2008 at 11:30 AM

Sat in on a campaign conference call this morning, hosted by senior campaign advisor Ann Lewis and communications director Howard Wolfson. It was pretty much what you'd expect these things to be like.

The festivities began with Lewis blasting away at Obama's attacks on Clinton ... while faulting him for not addressing Clinton's attacks on Obama, and not speaking to economic issues that matter in Pennsylvania and other states. (Click here to hear Ann Lewis just going to town for like a solid two minutes.)

Repeatedly during the ensuing half-hour discussion, Lewis and Wolfson argued that Obama's attacks were taken from "Republican talking points" ... something they contended was inconsistent with Obama's "version of new politics." 

"I for one do not believe that imitating Ken Starr [the independent prosecutor/Clinton scourge] is the way to win" the Democratic nomination, Wolfson said.

What were these attacks? Since the March 4 primary, Obama's campaign has faulted Clinton for not releasing tax returns sooner, and also raised questions about Clinton's old business dealings ... thus the shades of Whitewater. (Wolfson pledged that more tax information would be forthcoming closer to tax time, and at any rate prior to Pennsylvania's April 22 primary.)

Reporters pointed out that some of Clinton's own ads -- suggesting that Obama wouldn't be ready for the 3 a.m. phone call about a global crisis -- seemed to dovetail with Republican tactics of campaign on national-security fears. But Team Clinton was having none of it. Lewis contended that the "3 a.m. phone call" ads were "positive," because they stressed Democrats' ability to address national security issues that Republicans have previously used against them.

(ADDED: Obama responded by attacking Clinton's attacks on Obama's ... um ... attacks. "We don't believe that expecting candidates for the presidency to disclose their tax returns somehow constitutes Ken Starr-tactics," the Obama campaign says in an e-mail rebuttal. "And if Sen. Clinton doesn't think that the Republicans will ask these very same questions, then she's not as ready to go toe-to-toe with John McCain as she claims.")

The rest of the discussion centered almost exclusively on campaign tactics, as these things do. One interesting wrinkle was Lewis's response to a question about how Clinton won in Ohio. Lewis noted a Cleveland Plain Dealer story that emphasized Clinton's strength in the rural part of the state. Both Wolfson and Lewis argued that Clinton's strong performance in rural and upstate parts of New York helped her secure her Senate seat, and he predicted that she'd also be running hard in rural areas of Pennsylvania. (Hear Lewis discussing Clinton's strength in rural areas here.) 

Which means, of course, that Clinton plans to visit parts of the state that her chief Pennsylvania advocate, Governor Ed Rendell, probably had in mind when he notoriously suggested that in Pennsylvania, "some whites ... are probably not ready to vote for an African-American candidate." But if Hillary can explain to those voters why she DOESN'T think they are bigots if they vote for her, those votes could make the difference. In last year's municipal elections, Democrats seized control of a handful of county courthouses in rural parts of the state. If Clinton can figure out how to connect with working-class rural Dems -- and that's a big "if," given their frequently conservative bent on social issues  -- she could do well, and not just in the primary. 

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