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Obama vs Clinton: Day 5

The battle between Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Barack Obama (D-Ill.) over their respective foreign policy credentials continues to dominate the race for the Democratic presidential nomination.

The latest? A press conference Saturday by Clinton surrogate and former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack hitting Obama for comments he made to the Miami Herald less than a day before Monday's debate. In that interview, Obama said he would meet with Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez "under certain conditions," yet in the debate Obama said he would not put preconditions on such a meeting.

"Rather than just simply acknowledging the mistake that was made during the course of the debate, the Senator has attempted to distort Senator Clinton's record in an effort to mask this confusing statement of his," said Vilsack. "It's not the Iowa way."

Vilsack also scolded Obama for comparing Clinton's foreign policy philosophy to that of the Bush administration; "These comments are so wrong, one could say that they are certainly audacious, but honestly they are not particularly hopeful," said Vilsack.

Obama's campaign quickly responded. Spokesman Bill Burton said Obama had been "entirely consistent" in his position on the issue and added: "The politics of hope requires us to shake up the establishment status quo that has to change."

Like most major moments in political campaigns, the current fight really isn't about what it appears to be. It's less about understanding the differences between the two candidates' foreign policy approaches. Instead this is a fundamental battle on both Obama's and Clinton's part to turn their rival's alleged strongest point into a weakness.

For Obama, that means using Clinton's experience against her by making sure to remind voters that she cast a vote in support of the 2002 use of force resolution against Iraq. Obama is arguing that he is willing to shake up the status quo -- of both parties -- in Washington.

For Clinton, that means knocking the sheen off the un-politician image that Obama has cultivated since his speech to the Democratic National Convention in 2004. Obama's greatest strength is that people don't see him as just another politician; they see him as a change agent who is in politics to do something, amd not to be something. If Obama wades into the normal back and forth of campaigns, so the theory goes, his reputation as a different kind of politician will be dramatically altered.

Round and round the spin goes. We'll keep watching.

By Chris Cillizza  |  July 28, 2007; 5:35 PM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008  
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