As recent polls show Sen. Hillary Clinton getting edged out in early voting primary states, the Clinton camp is pointing voters to more questionnaires from rival Sen. Barack Obama’s past as evidence that the Illinois senator is too liberal, too inconsistent, too unelectable or all of the above.
The Clinton camp exhibits increasing annoyance at what it regards as a "free ride" for Obama from the political press corps. And it feels besieged as it has to bat away incessant questions about declining poll numbers in early battleground states and accounts of deepening turmoil at the highest levels of the Clinton campaign.
An article in the New York Daily News on Wednesday said a concerned Bill Clinton has even stepped up involvement in the campaign.
In an attempt to shift the focus, Clinton's camp points to Obama's voter questionnaires and what it considers significant shifts on issues such as the Patriot Act, the Defense of Marriage Act, Fast Track trade authority and benefits for same-sex couples.
"Given how little experience Sen. Obama has, it’s understandable that his campaign doesn’t want any kind of focus on his record," Clinton spokesman Phil Singer said. "These stories clearly raise questions about Sen. Obama’s electability and serve as a stark reminder about how little the public knows about his views and positions."
In a 2003 questionnaire for the Illinois chapter of the National Organization for Women, Obama said he would vote to repeal the Patriot Act. In 2006 Obama voted for the re-drafted version of the Patriot Act that some critics contended made only minor changes to the original law.
Obama conceded the re-written Patriot Act was "far from perfect," but it improved on the original by creating protections against government searches of libraries, personal records and access to legal counsel for individuals involved in terror-related investigations.
On the Defense of Marriage Act in a 2004 questionnaire, Obama answered "No," to the question: "Do you support repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act?" The campaign's Web site now says Obama supports "the full and unqualified repeal of the federal Defense of Marriage Act."
On Fast Track authority, which requires Congress to vote yes or no and without amendments on pending trade deals, Obama said in a 2004 questionnaire that he opposes Fast Track authority "because it is a usurpation of Congress' role to ensure that negotiated trade agreements serve the best interests of our country, including protection of the environment, worker rights and human rights."
In remarks to the Detroit Economic Club in May, Obama said: "I plan to be president, so I actually want Fast Track. But I'm willing to constrain myself in Fast Track to make sure that we’ve got strong labor and environmental protections."
On benefits for same-sex couples, Obama said in the 2003 Illinois NOW questionnaire that he "would need to evaluate the fiscal impact" of extending Social Security benefits to same-sex couples that married couples currently receive. The campaign's Web site now says Obama supports giving same-sex couples "equal legal rights ad privileges as married couples."
Obama's campaign dismisses allegations of inconsistency, calling the Patriot Act a better law than the original and claiming his position on Fast Track is consistent when viewed from a legislative and executive context (as a lawmaker he wants a bigger role, and as president he would use Fast Track to deal with environmental and worker rights issues).
The campaign claims he never ruled out backing federal benefits for same-sex couples but merely sought guidance on the fiscal impact. The campaign did not offer an explanation about the apparent switch on the Defense of Marriage Act.
"This is so recycled," Obama spokesman Bill Burton said.
Obama's camp called the Clinton charges absurd and desperate, rooted in a deepening fear that Obama could win the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses and is gaining ground in New Hampshire, which holds its primary Jan. 8.
A new WMUR-CNN poll released Wednesday showed Clinton and Obama locked in a virtual tie in the Granite State, with former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards rising slightly in his traditional third-place spot. The poll showed Clinton at 31 percent, Obama at 30 percent and Edwards at 16 percent.
This represents a 20-point drop for Clinton and indicates a noticeable post-Oprah Winfrey "bounce " for Obama. Winfrey traveled with Obama to three early voting states, including New Hampshire, over the weekend.
Clinton's camp privately concedes Obama benefited, at least temporarily, from the Oprah tour.
The campaign flatly denies persistent reports of turmoil, backbiting and talk of housecleaning. Even so, one top Democratic operative who is not associated with any campaign, told FOX News Clinton's camp is in a state of panic about declining poll numbers.
Clinton herself denied the rumors Tuesday and top Clinton operatives remain confident about her standing in national polls and the ability to drive home her message of experience and preparation for the presidency. Privately, they acknowledge, any massive staff shakeup would undercut Clinton's central argument, that she is "ready to lead" on day one.
Massive reshuffling of positions within the campaign, operatives also privately concede, would feed days and days of analysis and "crisis" stories that would inhibit Clinton's ability to communicate effectively with voters in Iowa and New Hampshire.