Monday, February 12, 2007

Obama Gets Jump On Hillary On War Issue

Both the New York Times and Washington Post have lengthy articles this morning on Sen. Barack Obama's presidential announcement and first campaign moves in Illinois and Iowa, and Sen. Hillary Clinton's rather troubled weekend foray in New Hampshire.

The L.A. Times, showing once again the results of Tribune ownership and cutbacks, did not staff Clinton's trip, and its Obama article, by Mark Barabak, first seemed too pessimistic a view of Obama's opening moves over the weekend. These are early signs that L.A. Times political coverage for the 2008 campaign will not be up to that of the New York Times and Washington Post.

The fact is that Obama got the jump on Clinton over the weekend, especially on the war issue. He drew tremendous crowds in very cold weather, and he kept punching away on Clinton's vote for the Iraq war back in 2003, when Obama was not in the Senate, but still was clearly opposed to the war. Obama made the point that domestic initiatives in the U.S. are on hold pending a resolution of the war. He wants a scheduled withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq, although he had put some restrictions on this, depending on war developments.

(However, within a few hours, Obama had to apologize for remarking that lives of American soldiers killed in Iraq had been "wasted." This was a serious mistake, and shows that Obama has to watch himself in the heated atmosphere of a presidential campaign).

Clinton, meanwhile, seemed hard pressed in New Hampshire to parry war questions from voters who wanted to know why she had originally approved of the war, and what her position on it is now. She said President Bush abused the powers the Senate gave him in its war resolution, but she refused to say her own vote had been a "mistake."

NBC commentator Tim Russert suggested on the Today program Sunday morning that any admission from her of having made a mistake could open new questions about her capacity as a woman to lead the country. Women candidates always have to fear seeming irresolute. Meanwhile, New York Times columnist Bob Herbert was much higher on Obama than on Clinton.

What seems to be happening is that Obama has seized the high ground (given the fact both he and Clinton are running in Democratic primaries at present) on the war issue, and, incidentally, has outflanked former Sen. John Edwards, who now is for a somewhat more precipitate Iraq withdrawal than Obama but, like Clinton, voted for the war in the first place. Edwards' sincerity as a trial lawyer by profession, is somewhat in question.

Obama is creating an impression, in short, that he is purer and more definite as well as more idealistic, on the war issue than the other major candidates, and he picked up two substantial endorsements in Iowa over the weekend.

He seems, at least for the moment, to have put in the shadow any questions about his father being a Muslim, or whether he can appeal solidly to black voters, although these will recur as his campaign goes on.

We're still nearly a year from the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary, and there will undoubtedly be many developments in Iraq and the whole Middle East before then. Perspectives on the war could change, although perhaps not in an optimistic way.

Meanwhile, based on his California pronouncements over the weekend, former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani seems ready to announce formally a presidential candidacy at a time of his choosing.

Giuliani will be a formidable candidate. At this point, he has an edge over Sen. John McCain in the battle for the GOP nomination.

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