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Clinton Ad Invokes Harry Truman and Osama Bin Laden

Hours after Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) began airing an ad in Pennsylvania that subtly questions Sen. Barack Obama's readiness to handle a pending crisis, the Illinois Senator's campaign unveiled an ad of its own that starkly rebuts that charge.

Clinton's ad declares that the presidency is "the toughest job in the world" and asks "Who do you think has what it takes?" It is similar in message to the "3 a.m. telephone call" ad that Clinton's campaign used to great effect shortly before the Texas and Ohio primaries last month.

Obama, as he has done time and again in this campaign when pressed on whether he is ready to lead, falls back on his judgment to oppose the war in Iraq from the start.

"Who made the right judgment about opposing the war and had the courage and character to speak honestly about it?" the narrator of the Obama ad asks.

Then, in a clear shot at Clinton, the narrator adds: "Who in times of challenge will unite us, not use fear and calculation to divide us?"

Clinton's campaign is going for broke -- literally -- with this ad that uses a series of powerful and moving images to again raise questions about Sen. Barack Obama's readiness for the job of president.

The ad hits virtually every possible emotional touchstone for voters from 18 to 80 -- the bombing of Pearl Harbor, long gas lines in the 1970s, Osama bin-Laden and Hurricane Katrina.

"It's the toughest job in the world," says the ad's narrator. "You need to be ready for anything -- especially now, with two wars, oil prices skyrocketing and an economy in crisis."

The ad goes on to quote President Harry Truman's famous aphorism ("If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen") -- a line being used regularly now by Clinton to cast Obama as complaining about the rules in the game in the wake of last week's debate.

"Who do you think has what it takes?" the narrator asks at the end of the spot, an attempt to frame the race, in much the same way that the now famous "3 a.m." ad did, as a stark choice about who they most trust in the White House.

Obama spokesman Bill Burton slammed Clinton over the ad, accusing her of engaging in scare tactics:

"When Senator Clinton voted with President Bush to authorize the war in Iraq, she made a tragically bad decision that diverted our military from the terrorists who attacked us, and allowed Osama bin Laden to escape and regenerate his terrorist network. It's ironic that she would borrow the President's tactics in her own campaign and invoke bin Laden to score political points. We already have a President who plays the politics of fear, and we don't need another."

But this type of message seemed to work for Clinton in the final days before the Ohio-Texas Two-Step as late deciders (those making up their minds in the last three days before the primaries) broke strongly for Clinton. (Worth noting: Clinton ran the ad in Texas but not Ohio; still, the level of attention the ad attracted almost certainly ensured that Ohio voters were well aware of its contents.)

Much has changed over the course of the campaign, however, voters' trust in Clinton has eroded significantly. Less than four in ten Democrats see Clinton as "honest and trustworthy" in the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll, while nearly six in ten Democrats said those attributes did not describe the New York Senator.

(Clinton's acknowledged misstatements over her trip to Bosnia in 1996 certainly have something to do with that erosion.)

The other x-factor for Clinton in the runup to the Pennsylvania vote is the fact that her campaign appears to be running on financial fumes -- making her showing tomorrow in Pennsylvania all the more important.

On a conference call this morning, Clinton communications director Howard Wolfson said that his candidate has $9.3 million in the bank that can be used in the primary, roughly $1 million less than the $10.3 million in debt she is carrying, according to report filed over the weekend with the Federal Election Commission.

"The numbers are what they are," said Wolfson, noting that despite being outspent by a three to one clip in the state by Obama that Clinton has been able to "get a message out."

While Wolfson was adamant on the call that margins made little difference in Pennsylvania, it's impossible to make that case given the serious hurdles (pledged delegates, raw vote, money) that Clinton currently faces.

Clinton MUST score a clear victory tomorrow -- is that 8 points? Ten? -- in order to re-energize and expand her donor base to fund her campaign going forward. (Chief strategist Geoff Garin categorically denied a Drudge Report item that said Clinton's internal polls show her ahead by 11 points.) Being outspent three to one in Pennsylvania, where she has a considerable demographic edge, is one thing, being ouspent that badly in Indiana could well doom her candidacy.

The decision by the Clinton campaign to invoke Pearl Harbor and Osama bin-Laden is clearly something of a gamble for the campaign. That said, this is a campaign with its back against the wall (as it has been for months) and taking risks are a necessity if Clinton hopes to leapfrog Obama and claim the nomination.

By Chris Cillizza  |  April 21, 2008; 1:00 PM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008  
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Next: DNC Hits McCain, But Can They Keep It Up?

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