March 9, 2008


Who would the GOP rather face?: John McCain's strategists look on with amazement, and a little glee, as Hillary Clinton tries to make a comeback against Barack Obama. (Mike Madden, Mar. 10, 2008, Salon)

[R]epublicans already have a pretty clear road map for how to run against Hillary. (It's not as if it would be the first time she's been their nemesis.) Surveys and focus groups the RNC commissioned earlier in the year indicate voters think Clinton "will say or do anything to get elected" and that she'll raise their taxes. "Americans know Senator Clinton, and they know that they can't trust her," RNC spokesman Alex Conant said. Attacks might not even need to dredge up all the old battles of her husband's administration -- though, as the "socialized medicine" refrain that crept back into Republican talking points this year shows, the GOP does like to tie old lines into new ones. And a McCain-Clinton contest would pretty much end all the worries at McCain's Alexandria, Va., headquarters about how to unite Republicans behind him; just sending out an e-mail with "Hillary Clinton" in the subject line could probably raise him a few million bucks.

Which is why some Republicans sounded almost wistful as Obama won state after state in February. Deprived of one of their favorite punching bags of all time, they had to move on to another target, one who wasn't already familiar to many voters. The easy shots at Clinton would have to be shelved. "The political reality was, why would Republicans bother attacking her?" one GOP strategist said.

McCain's aides say now they don't know which one they'd rather face. "McCain and I have never been sure of that," Black said. "We've talked about it and looked at it, and we're not sure who's easier or that either of them is easier." So like most of the rest of the country (except, of course, Mississippians, Pennsylvanians and the residents of the other seven states and two U.S. possessions yet to vote), they're just watching. "There's nothing we can really do about it," Salter said. "To the extent we're paying attention to the dynamic, it's just giving us information that we need for our schedule -- how much time do we have to go out there and reintroduce McCain to the country and start doing policy speeches while those two are banging away at each other?"

The RNC, meanwhile, will handle the nastier end of things -- making sure that voters have at least some negative associations in their minds with whoever emerges with the Democratic nomination, whenever the race ends. But there, too, strategists seem content for now to let Clinton do their dirty work on Obama, or vice versa; why get in the way when your opponents' aides are calling each other monsters or saying they aren't ready to handle an international crisis?

From the GOP perspective, the race has taken an even weirder turn lately, with Obama lumping McCain and Clinton together in his speech Tuesday night after losing Texas and Ohio, calling them both opponents of his hope for change. Not to be outdone, Clinton implied Thursday that McCain was more qualified to be commander in chief than Obama.

One hopes that turn of phrase was intentional, because it expresses such deep contempt for the Obama candidacy. If accidental, it's even funnier.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 9, 2008 8:53 PM
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