Clinton Is Prime Target, But Web Effect Still an Unknown Factor

Sen. Hillary Clinton took a hit on the chin this week from an anonymous YouTube advertisement comparing her presidential campaign to "Big Brother" from George Orwell's "1984."

And when she earned laughs at a campaign stop in New York for talking about the impact her personal energy savings has on Iran and Venezuela, it didn't take long for her words to filter through the Internet and become GOP talking points as well as blogosphere fodder.

"Once again, Sen. Clinton demonstrates that she knows, as they say in my part of the world, sod all about energy. Switching off a light doesn't harm Iran or Venezuela one whit," wrote Competitive Enterprise Institute Senior Fellow Iain Murray in National Review Online's The Corner. "So spare us the sanctimony, Madam Senator, and pick up a book on Energy 101."

As the saying goes, it's tough being at the top, something the Democratic senator from New York knows all too well. But political observers say it's too soon to tell whether the reverberations from all the Web attention will have any impact on Clinton's 2008 presidential candidacy.

The so-far anonymous YouTube ad, which promotes the campaign of Clinton rival and Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, has received more than 1 million views and counting.

The number of hits shows just how powerful a vehicle the Internet can be in spreading individual, self-produced messages, said Mark Mellman, a Democratic pollster who has not backed any 2008 candidate yet.

• Click here to see the YouTube video.

"There's no question that YouTube, in general, the Internet, in general ... has become a major player," Mellman said. "There's no question that the impact is there and if anything, it's going to accelerate.

As an example of the impact of user-generated video, Mellman pointed to George Allen's loss last year of his U.S. Senate seat to Jim Webb. Allen tried to make light of a Webb aide who had been following him around with a video camera, but when Allen used an African-origined epithet to describe the American of Indian descent, the taped comment ended up being broadcast all over TV and the Internet. The accompanying charges of racism brought Allen's campaign crashing down.

Like the Allen-Webb contest, Mellman said any defining Internet moments for the presidential candidates likely won't be known until after Election Day 2008.

The YouTube ad "certainly got a lot of views. A lot of people have looked at it and certainly tried to underline a point that Obama's making about Clinton. How strong a point it is, I'm not sure. I'm pretty sure it's not an accurate point," Mellman said.

University of Virginia politics professor and political commentator Larry Sabato said he does not believe the ad will have a long-lasting impact. Neither will Clinton's comments from the weekend.

"Real events matter ... and this ad isn't one," Sabato said.

At a fundraising event in New York, Clinton made a brief joke about energy saving, tying it into energy independence and foreign policy.

"My late father used to go around turning off every light, and you know, I'd roll my eyes. Well, now, I go around turning off every light, and when I do, I go turn off the light, and I say, 'Take that Iran' and you know, 'Take that Venezuela.' I mean, we should not be sending our money to people who are not going to support our values," Clinton said.

A few blogs picked up on the comment, which was quoted in an Associated Press story, and The Politico posted a clip of the remarks on its Web site. While receiving nowhere near the response the "1984" ad received, the clip became an easy press release for the Republican National Committee, and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney pointed it on Tuesday.

• Click here to see the clip of Clinton's speech.

"I actually think that Hillary Clinton really distinguished herself in a negative way these last couple of days by saying that she is fighting Iran by turning off lights, you know, 'Take that Iran.' I mean, fortunately we have an administration who is using their strength to convince the Russians to do the right thing and cut off nuclear fuel, but Hillary Clinton is not exactly burnishing her foreign policy credentials with her policy," Romney, a GOP presidential candidate, told FOX News Tuesday.

"You can never lose by poking at Hillary Clinton," Sabato said. Clinton "from time to time, she is off-key — and not just in singing the Star Spangled Banner."

Nevertheless, Sabato said, "It'll be quickly forgotten."

Mellman said he had not yet heard of the comments made at the weekend fundraiser, but when described to him, he said he didn't see anything wrong with them.

"It sounds like it was something done in jest, and I think it's perfectly appropriate. ... I don't think anybody wants to come across supporting sending money to Iran and Venezuela," Mellman said.