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It's Never Too Early to Get Defensive

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) talks with Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno during her weekend trip to Iraq. Clinton was expected to discuss her visit to the war zone at a news conference yesterday, but something came up. Really.
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) talks with Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno during her weekend trip to Iraq. Clinton was expected to discuss her visit to the war zone at a news conference yesterday, but something came up. Really. (By Sgt. Curt Cashour -- U.s. Army)

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By Dana Milbank
Wednesday, January 17, 2007

At 10:04 yesterday morning, a bulletin crossed the Associated Press wire: "Barack Obama takes the first step in a presidential bid."

Eleven minutes later came a "MEDIA ADVISORY" from the office of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, announcing that she was postponing by a day her much-anticipated remarks about Iraq, which had been scheduled for yesterday afternoon.

Cable news did not see this as a coincidence. "BREAKING NEWS," proclaimed a graphic on MSNBC. "HILLARY CLINTON CANCELS IRAQ NEWSER AFTER OBAMA ANNOUNCEMENT."

"Senator Barack Obama takes the first step toward running for president in 2008, and minutes later a surprise announcement from Senator Hillary Clinton," one of the cable network's anchors reported.

Was the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination preempted by Barack Obama, the party's rising star?

Clinton spokesman Philippe Reines rushed to rein in the speculation. "Congressman McHugh unexpectedly remained in Germany and isn't returning until today, [so] we postponed until tomorrow when all three members could all attend," he wrote in an e-mail.

The Clinton camp's explanation only raised more questions. Among them: Congressman Mc WHO?

That would be John McHugh (R-N.Y.), who with Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) took a weekend trip to Iraq with Clinton. When McHugh delayed his return by a day because of dehydration, Clinton decided to postpone the event -- a decision shared with a few reporters Monday but never publicly announced.

"We knew that yesterday, but didn't have a new time for tomorrow because the members were in the air, and because the Radio & TV Gallery was closed yesterday," Reines continued in his email. "We were only able to lock it in this morning."

And we lost the phone number. And the dog ate my homework. And I think I hear my mom calling.

It was awfully early in a presidential campaign to be getting so defensive -- but such is the tone of the accelerated 2008 race.

The first candidate forums will be next month, the first debates in April, and the Iowa caucuses may arrive with Santa's sleigh in late December. This has sent candidates rushing to announce their exploratory committees or outright candidacies; Clinton herself plans an announcement in the coming days.


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