Clinton, Obama and the Silly Season
DES MOINES--As Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton goes on the attack against Sen. Barack Obama, trying to blunt his surge in Iowa and New Hampshire polls, her campaign is attempting to open a second front by accusing Team Obama of playing unfairly.
The Clinton campaign e-mailed supporters in Iowa and New Hampshire a message from campaign manager Patti Solis Doyle with the subject line, "The dirty tricks are starting." It offered a handful of allegations that Obama staffers in the two states were less than polite and quoted one Iowan talking about an alleged anti-Clinton push poll, origins unknown.
Solis Doyle said the campaign wants to know more.
"These reports are invaluable to our campaign!" Doyle wrote in the Monday night e-mail to an Iowa supporter. "It is vitally important that we know about any unethical tactics our opponents may use! And as one of our best supporters in Iowa, you are in the best position to keep us informed."
Obama spokesman Bill Burton was less than pleased.
"This flat-out falsehood is the latest attack in a silly season where our opponents have promised to stop at nothing in an effort to tarnish Barack Obama's character," Burton wrote in an e-mail.
"Push-polling or tactics of confusion have no place in this campaign and we don't or won't engage in them. Unlike some other campaigns, we want every potential Iowa caucus-goer to participate in the process, no matter who they support."
After Clinton shifted to the attack, Obama and campaign manager David Plouffe teamed on a Monday e-mail of their own. They urged followers to contribute $25 "and show our opponents that this kind of negativity will only make us stronger in our determination to bring about the change America needs."
"I'll respond to each of the Clinton campaign's desperate attacks directly and honestly," Obama wrote. "But when I respond to each attack, I want to be able to say that I am not alone. I want to be able to say that 10,000 people responded with me in the first 48 hours."
The tone of the Democratic side of the Iowa campaign shifted dramatically and unexpectedly after the Clinton campaign received news that her poll numbers are more shaky than her campaign expected.
Although she remains in a statistical dead heat with Obama, with John Edwards just a few points behind, a Des Moines Register poll also suggests that her support among women -- an essential constituency for her -- has fallen sharply and Obama's has risen.
At Iowa events since the weekend, Clinton has accused Obama of what she considers to be character flaws. She addressed his record in the Illinois legislature and positions he has taken during the campaign. But the example that has drawn the most attention, sometimes accompanied by head-shaking smiles, is the Clinton campaign's assertion that Obama is rewriting the history of his Oval Office ambitions.
He always wanted to be president, the Clinton camp contends. As one piece of evidence, they cite an AP report from Obama's kindergarten teacher saying he wrote an essay titled, "I Want to Become President."
The Solis Doyle e-mail focuses on what she describes as bad behavior of Clinton opponents in Iowa and New Hampshire, some of them allegedly Obama staffers or volunteers.
"In Iowa, we have heard reports that Hillary supporters are getting calls that tell them incorrect caucus locations," Solis Doyle wrote. "Supporters have also told us about push polls -- when they tell the pollster they support Hillary, they are given negative talking points about her and asked which attacks are the most effective.
"In both Iowa and New Hampshire," she continued, "we have heard that Obama staffers are berating Hillary supporters on the phone with negative attacks against her."
When Obama and Plouffe asked for contributions in their e-mail, Plouffe cast the appeal as a way of "increasing the cost of these tactics for her campaign. You can make them think twice about continuing these attacks."
The Obama donation drive is called "cost of negativity."
With 30 days to go until Iowa's first in the nation caucus, the costs of all sorts of campaign tactics are only starting to be reckoned.
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