Friday , March 16, 2007
Hillary’s fall — Time had her ahead of Obama by 40-21 in January — has been animated by a switch of black voters among whom she had been leading by three to one. But that was before she made the colossal mistake of attacking Obama for the comments of his financial supporter David Geffen. Obama had been wrestling with the dilemma of how to attract black voters without embracing civil rights leaders like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. Then Hillary, led by her consultant Mark Penn, decided to unload on Obama, blaming him for Geffen’s remarks which criticized her husband’s pardons and his personal “recklessness.” Faced with a white attacking a black candidate, African Americans rallied in droves to support Obama, closing the gap between the two Democratic front-runners to eleven points.
The geniuses running Hillary’s campaign made another big goof in sending both Clintons to Selma, Ala. to horn in on the celebration of the 42nd anniversary of the voting rights march. It was Obama’s day and his speech, lecturing African Americans to abandon their “anti-intellectual” attitudes, contrasted sharply with Hillary’s pandering, pat, and scripted rhetoric. When the former First Lady tried to say that the march for voting rights for blacks made her candidacy possible, she was laughable and her imitation of a southern drawl fueled jokes all over the country.
Now, in the wake of Selma, Obama has tied with Hillary at 36-36 among black voters in the Time poll. This elimination of Hillary’s lead among African Americans has pushed Obama to within four points of her in the South and ahead of her in the West.
Even as the poll was being released, Hillary was making a third mistake. She told the New York Times on Tuesday, March 13 that she would keep troops in Iraq if she were elected. “I think we have a remaining military as well as political mission [in Iraq] trying to contain the extremists,” she said. While indicating that she would have troops avoid policing urban areas, she said they would continue to “provide logistical support, air support, training support” and would be deployed “between Baghdad and Kirkuk ready to “continue to provide support, if called for, for the Iraqis.”
This new twist on her Iraq position comes a few days after she said she would vote to attach a rider to the appropriations bill funding the war calling for full withdrawal by March of 2008. Hillary characterizes this as a “goal,” not a legal requirement.
But her new comments supporting continued deployment will open up a huge gap between herself and Obama on the war. The Illinois Senator has always opposed the war in Iraq and wants to force a complete withdrawal for all American forces by the spring of 2008. This position puts him on a collision course with Hillary, a dangerous posture for Mrs. Clinton among a Democratic electorate that backs total withdrawal by 77-18 in the latest FOX News survey.
Why did Hillary make these three mistakes opening the door for Obama to close the gap?
Her attack on Obama was mapped out, according to columnist Bob Novack, in a conference call headed by her consultant Mark Penn. But, what drove the decision was Bill Clinton’s vanity and temper. Stung by Geffen’s criticism, the former president demanded that Hillary’s campaign answer the attacks — a key and crucial mistake.
Her pathetic attempt to appeal to blacks in Selma was probably the result of panic at the consequences of her first mistake, an overreaction that did her more harm than good.
But why the double-talk on Iraq? Hillary may be feeling over confident of her lead in the primaries, and wants to lay the basis for tacking back to the center in the general election. If that’s the case, she needs to reread the polls.
The more likely explanation is that she is in the thrall of the generals and security experts who parade before the Senate Armed Services Committee on which she serves, and she finds that she cannot ignore what they are telling her. Just as she followed health care guru Ira Magaziner off a cliff in 1994, just as she pushed her reform legislation until it cost her party control of Congress, she now hues to the military line that we need to stay in Iraq. Of course, she was wrong on health care, but is right on Iraq. But that doesn’t matter much. She will pay dearly for her apostasy in the Democratic primaries to come.
Hillary has now blown her easy front-runner status and will have to contend with a resurgent Obama all way until the February 5 national primary.
Dick Morris served as Bill Clinton's political consultant for 20 years, guiding him to a successful reelection in 1996. He is the author of New York Times bestsellers Because He Could, Rewriting History (both with Eileen McGann), Off with Their Heads, and Behind the Oval Office, and the Washington Post bestseller Power Plays.
Copyright Eileen McGann and Dick Morris 2006. To obtain free copies of all of the columns and newsletters by Dick Morris and Eileen McGann for non-commercial use, please sign up at www.dickmorris.com.