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Red Meat Politics and
a Red State Endorsement

Hillary Clinton went back to her Little Rock roots today for an endorsement by Gov. Mike Beebe(AP)

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton has been embracing the role of partisan warrior recently. She launched an ad campaign in Iowa criticizing President Bush - saying that ordinary people are "invisible to this president" - that provoked an angry White House response (a deputy Bush spokeswoman called it "unconscionable"). When Karl Rove criticized Clinton as a "fatally flawed" candidate, she turned it into a debate sound byte.

"I find it interesting he's so obsessed with me," Clinton said in Des Moines on Sunday. She went on to say that she has been "fighting against these people for longer than anybody else up here" - referring to her Republican opponents - and that she had "taken them on and beaten them."

Not exactly unifying, conciliatory stuff.
But can Clinton - whose biggest political problem is the perception that she's "polarizing" -- really afford to be on the attack all the time?

Apparently not. On Monday, she traveled to Arkansas for an endorsement by the governor of the state, which voted for Bush in the last two election cycles. Her advisers held up the trip as proof that Clinton can win support in so-called "red" Republican states, making her as viable a general election candidate as anyone else in the race (read: Sen. Barack Obama, whose soothing bipartisan tone has been a hallmark of his campaign).

Howard Wolfson, the communications director for Clinton, said she is simultaneously making two points at this juncture in the race: that she can "stand up to the Republican attack machine, and at the same time has a record of building consensus in office." Exhibit A: Republicans in upstate New York voted for her in her 2006 Senate re-election. And she is being welcomed to Arkansas by Democrats there (including three of the state's members of Congress and Senator Mark Pryor, who the campaign said have already endorsed her).

In truth, Clinton has been playing a delicate game of cat-and-mouse with Republicans - and they with her -- for the better part of two years. She befriended former Sen. John McCain in the Senate before they parted ways on the war in Iraq - posing with him in photos that added a veneer of unity to her image. Other Republicans, such as McCain ally Sen. Lindsey Graham, express what seems to be genuine respect for Clinton's centrist foreign policy. Some neoconservatives have said outright that they would prefer her policies to those of any other Democrat in the running.

Still, there is speculation that Rove has picked on Clinton in order to artificially pump her up - because he is truly more afraid of having a Republican run against Obama. Rove, asked about that bank-shot strategy by the Associated Press, brushed it aside. "I mean, come on," he said. (Obama, for his part, asserted in a Washington Post interview last week that he would be the most unifying of the candidates).

Wolfson said the explanation for Rove's comments was "pretty simple -- he is attacking her because she is surging in both the primary and general election polls."

So is Clinton a uniter? Or a divider? For now, she appears to hope the answer is: Both.

--Anne E. Kornblut

By Washington Post editors  |  August 20, 2007; 3:12 PM ET
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