This 2006 photo of Barack Obama, right, dressed
in garb presented by an elder in Wajir during a
Kenya visit, was provided to the Drudge Report,
possibly to fuel erroneous rumors that he is Muslim.
After struggling for months to dent Sen. Barack Obama’s candidacy, the campaign of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton is unleashing what one Clinton aide called a “kitchen sink” fusillade against Obama, pursuing multiple lines of attack since Saturday in hopes of stopping his political momentum.
The effort reflects not only Clinton’s recognition that the next round of primaries — in Ohio and Texas on March 4 — are must-win contests for her. It also reflects her advisers’ belief that they can persuade many undecided voters to embrace her candidacy at the last minute by drawing sharply worded, attention-grabbing contrasts with Obama.
After angrily denouncing Obama over the weekend for an anti-Clinton flier about the NAFTA trade treaty, and then sarcastically portraying his message of hope Sunday as naive, Clinton delivered a blistering speech Monday that compared Obama’s lack of foreign-policy experience to that of George W. Bush when he was a candidate.
“We’ve seen the tragic result of having a president who had neither the experience nor the wisdom to manage our foreign policy and safeguard our national security,” Clinton said in a speech at George Washington University. “We can’t let that happen again.”
Obama’s campaign dismissed the attempt to link him to Bush.
“It’s ironic that Hillary Clinton compared Barack Obama to George Bush when she voted to authorize the war in Iraq,” said retired Maj. Gen. J. Scott Gration, an Obama adviser.
With a crucial debate in Ohio tonight, Clinton’s advisers and independent political analysts said that, by going negative against Obama when polls in Texas and Ohio show a tightening race, Clinton risks alienating voters. She has always been more popular with voters when she appeared sympathetic and a fighter.
“There’s a general rule in politics: A legitimate distinction, which could be effective when drawn early in the campaign, often backfires and could seem desperate when it happens in the final hours of a campaign,” said Steve McMahon, a Democratic strategist who is not working for either candidate.
Clinton advisers said Monday that the attacks were partly an attempt to knock Obama off balance before the final scheduled debate between the two candidates tonight in Cleveland.
In Clinton’s speech Monday, she portrayed herself as “tested and ready” to be commander in chief, while accusing Obama of believing “that mediation and meetings without preconditions will solve some of the world’s most intractable problems.” Obama has said he would go further than Clinton to meet with leaders of hostile nations, but he has also said he would prepare for those meetings carefully and would not be blind to the leaders’ motives.
The attack that received the most pop on cable television and the blogs came after a photograph of Obama dressed in ceremonial African garb appeared on the Drudge Report, and the item’s author, Matt Drudge, said the image was provided by a Clinton staff member.
The photo could be interpreted to suggest Muslim garb, and Obama has been nagged by erroneous rumors that he is or once was a Muslim. He is a Christian.
Obama campaign officials quickly denounced the Clinton camp’s alleged role in circulating the photo.
“On the very day that Senator Clinton is giving a speech about restoring respect for America in the world, her campaign has engaged in the most shameful, offensive fear-mongering we’ve seen from either party in the election,” Obama campaign manager David Plouffe said.
Clinton campaign officials didn’t confirm or deny a role in the incident; instead, they tried to turn the tables on the Obama camp by saying its indignation over the photo’s publication is itself an effort to divide and distract voters.
Maggie Williams, Clinton’s new chief of staff, pointed out that Clinton was often photographed in Muslim garb when traveling on behalf of her husband in the 1990s.
“Enough,” Williams wrote. “If Barack Obama’s campaign wants to suggest that a photo of him wearing traditional Somali clothing is divisive, they should be ashamed. …
“This is nothing more than an obvious and transparent attempt to distract from the serious issues confronting our country today and to attempt to create the very divisions they claim they decry.”
On Monday, for the first time in a New York Times/CBS News Poll, Obama moved ahead of Clinton nationally, with 54 percent of Democratic primary voters saying they wanted to see him nominated, while 38 percent preferred Clinton. A new USA Today/Gallup Poll released Monday showed a similar result, 51 percent for Obama to 39 percent for Clinton.
These national polls do not predict the Democratic candidates’ standings in individual states, notably Ohio and Texas. Most recent polls there show a neck-and-neck race in Texas and Clinton with a lead in Ohio; her campaign advisers say that if she prevails next Tuesday the race will begin anew.
See Related: WORLD POLITICS
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