By Douglas E. Schoen
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
Hillary Clinton took an important step Monday toward winning the Democratic nomination by launching an ad targeting Barack Obama's recent comments about working-class voters clinging to "guns or religion." The ad is a marked change from her recent determination to use a positive message until the Democratic convention, but for Clinton to capture the nomination she needs to completely abandon her positive campaign and continue to hammer away at Obama.
Clinton has provided a compelling case for her candidacy thus far. After all, the superdelegates have the power to end the Democratic contest now and have chosen to wait. At the very least, Clinton has created enough doubts about Obama and his electability to have earned a chance to compete in the next handful of primaries. But Clinton will almost certainly lose the pledged delegate count and the popular vote. To capture the nomination despite these facts she must convince the superdelegates that she is the only candidate who can win against John McCain in November.
As the underdog, Clinton's positive message will not work unless she is able to undermine Obama's candidacy. The Illinois senator's success has been largely built upon his claims that he is a unifier who can work above partisan politics, that he will bring change to our government and that he will bring a new style of leadership to Washington. Without bringing a strong amount of skepticism to these claims, Clinton will not be able to make significant inroads in Obama's lead and cannot persuade the superdelegates to go against the will of the American people.
Clinton needs to argue that despite what Obama has said, he has done very little to actually promote and create bipartisan solutions in Washington and that he is, in fact, probably the Senate's most liberal member. She needs to argue that his values are out of step with voters, as evidenced by his recent comments about why people are religious or seek to own guns. She also must argue that because of Obama's lack of legislative accomplishments, he is ill-equipped to achieve what he sets out to do.
By making these arguments compellingly in public appearances, through television and radio advertisements, and direct mail, Clinton can take advantage of the clear majority of American voters who have already said that they wholeheartedly disagree with the views Obama expressed last week in San Francisco.
Although voters and the media look favorably upon a positive campaign message, and Clinton is acutely conscious that too much negativity and too many personal attacks will hurt her party in November, a positive message is simply not enough to alter the race at this point. It is too late for Clinton to wait for Obama to make another mistake. She must seize the opportunity that Obama's self-acknowledged mistakes last week presented to her campaign; it is almost certainly her last chance.
Douglas E. Schoen, a pollster, is the author of "Declaring Independence: The Beginning of the End of the Two-Party System." He was an adviser to President Bill Clinton from 1994 to 2000.