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Ma Bell for President

Video
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/washingtonpost.com

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On Thursday morning, the Clinton campaign held a conference call to complain about the new Obama approach. Clinton adviser Ann Lewis accused Obama of "using Republican talking points" and said he "recycled many of the same Republican attacks."

"I don't quite understand," interjected David Corn of Mother Jones magazine. "Don't you think it's fair for them to raise questions about Hillary not releasing her tax returns?"

Clinton communications director Howard Wolfson answered that with a stunning accusation: "I, for one, do not believe that imitating Ken Starr is a way to win a Democratic primary election for president."

Comparing Obama to the Whitewater prosecutor? Even Clinton herself wasn't willing to embrace that level of victimhood when asked about Wolfson's line at her event with the retired brass. "Oh, I'm not going to respond to that," she said.

It seemed odd for Clinton to refuse to respond to her own communications director. But it's a tricky issue for her. While her campaign compares Obama to Starr, Clinton has been taking lessons from another figure unpopular in Democratic primary circles: President Bush.

On the call with Wolfson and Lewis, Jane Hamsher from the liberal blog Firedoglake pointed out that Clinton's phone-ringing ad was "reinforcing the be-afraid-all-the-time Republican campaign theme." And if that's the argument, she added, "isn't John McCain ultimately the winner?"

Whether he is or not, Clinton looked as if she'd borrowed a page from the Bush White House at her Westin meeting. Against a backdrop of six U.S. flags and several of the flag officers who support her, she raised the specter of terrorism and suggested that her opponent could endanger American lives.

She began with a statement about Thursday's explosion in Times Square. This, she said, served as a reminder that "it is imperative to remain vigilant as we continue to face threats at home and abroad."

That led, in a seamless but unseemly way, to Obama. "Often, when lives are on the line and a decision must be made, experience counts for everything," she said. "In this election, we need a nominee who can pass the commander-in-chief test . . . and keep our families safe."

It was a variation on the Republican theme in recent elections that Democrats mocked as "vote Democratic and die." This time, it's "vote Obama and die."

"It is imperative that each of us be able to demonstrate that we can cross the commander-in-chief threshold," she said. "I believe that I have done that, certainly Senator McCain has done that, and you'll have to ask Senator Obama with respect to his candidacy."

Good idea. In fact, let's call him at 3 a.m. and see if he answers the phone.


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