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Obama Responds (Sort Of) to "Bitter" Controversy

Anyone paying attention to the Democratic presidential race knew that once Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) began running television ads in Pennsylvania attacking Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) for comments he made to a group of donor last week, a response from the Illinois senator wasn't far behind.

The Obama campaign just released that response: an ad entitled "Represent."

Meanwhile, three new polls conducted for Bloomberg and the Los Angeles Times seem to suggest that Obama's comments have changed nothing in the fight for the Democratic nomination in Pennsylvania, Indiana and Pennsylvania.

In Pennsylvania, Clinton leads Obama, 46 percent to 41 percent. Obama leads in North Carolina, 47 percent to 34 percent, and, perhaps most surprisingly, holds a 40 percent to 35 percent edge over the New York senator in the key toss-up state of Indiana.

Pennsylvania's primary is a week from today while Indiana and North Carolin are set to vote on May 6. Wins by Obama in two of the three -- especially considering the withering gauntlet of bad press he has had to run over the past five days -- could effectively end thre Democratic presidential race.

"As we've seen across the state, Pennsylvanians are rejecting the say-and-do anything tactics they've seen from the Clinton campaign over the last few days," said Obama spokesman Hari Sevugan. "They want leadership that gets past the politics of division and distraction, and focuses on solutions to the challenges our families face, and that's what this ad and Barack Obama's campaign speak to."

The footage that opens the Obama commercial is taken from Clinton's appearance at an Alliance for American Manufacturing forum in Pittsburgh. Clinton's remark ("I know that many of you, like me, were disappointed by remarks he made") was greeted with some catcalls and booing -- a sign, the Obama ad argues, that average voters think Clinton is playing politics and are sick of it.

(AAM executive director Scott Paul released a statement a few hours ago insisting that the coverage of Clinton being booed misrepresented the tenor of the gathering. "The crowd reacted strongly throughout both candidates' remarks, voicing agreement or disagreement, cheering and applauding in response to both Sen. Clinton and Sen. Obama," Paul said).

Obama's ad never mentions the controversial remarks that Obama made in private to a group of donors in San Francisco, a recognition perhaps that there is nothing to be gained politically for the Illinois senator by repeating his comments about "bitter" victims of small-town economic distress clinging to their religion and guns.

The ad also reveals that Obama's campaign is doing its best to stay on message despite the obvious distractions posed by the hubbub over his remarks last weekend.

The key lines in the ad -- "There's a reason people are rejecting Hillary Clinton's attacks. Because the same old attacks won't lower the price of gas or fix our economy" -- are at the center of not only Obama's response to the current controversy but the entire message behind his campaign.

That is, he may have chosen his words poorly in calling small town residents "bitter," but nearly all the negative political response is an example of the of the politics as usual that his candidacy is aiming to end.

The Clinton campaign, not surprisingly, differs in the interpretation of the importance of what Obama told those now famous donors in San Francisco.

"We believe that this is an important issue for voters," Clinton strategist Howard Wolfson said on a conference call organized by the campaign this morning. "We believe there is a strong reaction to it."

To that end, the Clinton campaign has been circulating various tidbits of information from across the country suggesting a level of unease among Democrats with what Obama said. The latest is in the form of an open letter from a group of current and former Montana elected officials. "We wish to express our sincere disappointment with comments made by Sen. Barack Obama at a private San Francisco fundraiser last week -- comments which demean the heritage and values of working Montanans," the group wrote.

The wonderful thing about politics is that the voters in the end will sort through all the conflicting arguments and make a judgment. In a week's time we'll likely have some answers as to whether this whole controversy was an overblown remnant of politics past or a key turning point in the race to come.

In the meantime, we ponder and debate -- which you are all welcome to do in the comments section below.

By Chris Cillizza  |  April 15, 2008; 5:00 PM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008  
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