Obama struggles to stay above fray
In striking back harder against Clinton, is he undercutting his message?
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Clinton operatives wasted no time making just such a case. On Thursday, Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson contended that with his fresh attacks on Clinton, Obama was "imitating Ken Starr," the independent counsel whose probe of the Whitewater real estate affair in the mid-1990s was denounced by Democrats as politically motivated.Skip to next paragraph
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The next day, the Clinton campaign convened a conference call with reporters to demand that Samantha Power, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and unpaid foreign policy adviser to Obama, be fired after a Scottish newspaper quoted her calling Clinton a "monster."
"Senator Obama set a tone for this campaign and has talked about the politics of hope," Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Florida Democrat and Clinton backer, told reporters on the call. "For either the candidate or his senior advisers to degenerate into negative personal attacks and name calling, which clearly was the result of frustration and anger over his losses Tuesday, is below the belt and out of bounds."
Ms. Power resigned later in the day. She said in a statement that her remarks were "at marked variance from my oft-stated admiration for Senator Clinton and from the spirit, tenor and purpose of the Obama campaign."
Tommy Vietor, an Obama spokesman, said in an interview that the campaign is highlighting differences between the candidates, not making personal attacks. "If the Clinton campaign feels like an honest discussion of her record is negative, we would disagree," he says.
Bill Carrick, a Democratic political strategist based in Los Angeles, contends that Obama is making a trade-off in dialing up his critique of Clinton. "For Obama, what's the worse option: maintaining an aura of his candidacy that has worked for him or being dragged down by the Clinton people and losing the primaries?" Mr. Carrick says. "If he's going to change the tone of politics in America, the first thing he's going to have to do is get elected."
Despite the hotter rhetoric from both camps this month, the highly competitive race for the Democratic nomination remains civil as campaigns go, some analysts say. In 2004, crossfire between then-US Rep. Richard Gephardt and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean was far fiercer – and helped their rivals, Senator Kerry and then-Sen. John Edwards, finish first and second in the Iowa caucuses, says David Redlawsk, a political scientist at the University of Iowa in Iowa City.
The recent exchanges are a necessary if belated effort by the candidates to win over an electorate seemingly unable to settle on a front-runner, says Dr. Redlawsk. "One of the real challenges Democratic voters are having this time is that distinctions have not been drawn very clearly at all," he says. "We've had relatively little 'compare and contrast,' and I think in the end voters are left with less information than they would otherwise have.
"Now we're at the point," he adds, "where even the Obama campaign recognizes they have to make distinctions."