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Ma Bell for President

The Clinton campaign aired an ad called "3 a.m." before the Texas and Ohio primaries. At a roundtable discussion in Washington D.C., supporters of Sen. Hillary Clinton can't get enough of the phone calls.Video by Emily Freifeld/

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By Dana Milbank
Friday, March 7, 2008

It may be time to put the phone references on hold.

The airing last week of Hillary Clinton's ringing-phone ad questioning Barack Obama's fitness to handle a crisis appears to have helped her campaign. But now she's ringing off the hook with references to early-morning calls.

"When the phone rings, whether it's 3 p.m. or 3 a.m. in the White House, there is no time for speeches and on-the-job training," Clinton declared with a smile yesterday in front of a group of retired generals, admirals and other military types. Her military supporters rushed to answer the phone imagery.

"That 3 a.m. or 3 p.m. phone call means a lot," concurred Airborne Ranger Mark Jones.

"Voters shouldn't have to wonder about whether their president will be ready at 3 o'clock in the morning when the phone rings," agreed retired Lt. Gen. Joe Ballard. "They shouldn't have to worry about whether all of the steps necessary have been put in place so that that telephone shouldn't have to ring."

But if the phone just happens to ring anyway, Ballard continued, "this president, the next president, will definitely be ready on Day One and prepared to answer the phone -- regardless of the time."

Stay on the line; the phone imagery had not yet been exhausted.

"Senator, there's been a lot of talk about the 3 a.m. phone calls," one of the television reporters accurately pointed out. "Certainly your husband must have gotten some in his presidency. Can you talk about your role?"

"Obviously," the candidate answered, "I was there for a lot of phone calls at different times of the day and night, and I have a very clear idea of what it takes to be prepared and ready to not only answer the phone but then to make the decisions."

Sorry to break in on this party line, but here's an important announcement for Democrats: You are doing John McCain's work for him. While the presumptive Republican nominee rests, the two remaining Democratic candidates are working as hard as they can to make each other appear unfit to lead.

"Senator McCain will bring a lifetime of experience to the campaign, I will bring a lifetime of experience, and Senator Obama will bring a speech he gave in 2002," a derisive Clinton said yesterday to the retired military officers at the Westin in Dupont Circle.

Obama, in turn, has demanded to know "what exactly is this foreign experience that she's claiming?" His campaign also vowed to go after Clinton on personal issues such as demanding the release of her tax returns; "what's good for the goose is good for the gander," chief Obama strategist David Axelrod proclaimed.

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© 2008 The Washington Post Company

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