How Clinton Counters New Offensive


By: Wall Street Journal

By JACKIE CALMES
November 3, 2007

WASHINGTON — Hillary Clinton and her battle-tested campaign team have entered a two-month-long gauntlet to the first presidential nominating contests, with this week’s attacks from Democratic rivals and the Republican Party about her debate performance likely to mark only the beginning.

For a third day since Tuesday’s Democratic forum in Philadelphia, the New York senator’s chief Democratic rivals remained on the offensive Friday, posting anti-Clinton video clips on their Web sites and on YouTube.com that aimed to stoke doubts about her honesty and character, while seeking contributions for their own campaigns. The Republican National Committee did the same, splicing debate clips with background music familiar from circus performances.

“She’s a front-runner who’s getting the traditional front-runner treatment,” said Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Chicago, who was a top strategist to President Clinton’s 1992 campaign and has close ties to Mrs. Clinton and Illinois Sen. Barack Obama but hasn’t endorsed either.

Clinton advisers insisted they weren’t worried about fallout. They countered, as they have before, that Mrs. Clinton’s chief rivals — Mr. Obama and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards — were reneging on early promises to run positive campaigns offering “the politics of hope.”

It was an unfamiliar position for the campaign, given Mrs. Clinton’s solid performances and good reviews in all previous candidate forums. But her inconclusive or dismissive answers Tuesday night on Social Security, releasing papers from the Bill Clinton Library and drivers licenses for illegal immigrants in New York has left it on the defensive.

The Clinton campaign this week circulated its own online video highlights from the debate, called “The Politics of Pile On.”

Critics and rivals suggested she was playing “the gender card,” complaining of rough treatment from her six male rivals and the debate moderators to win sympathy from voters, especially women.

“I don’t think they’re piling on because I’m a woman. I think they’re piling on because I’m winning,” Mrs. Clinton told reporters in Concord, N.H., Friday after filing her papers to be on New Hampshire’s January primary ballot. “I anticipate it’s going to get even hotter, and if you can’t stand the heat get out of the kitchen. I’m very much at home in the kitchen.”

The Clinton campaign wouldn’t divulge what its postdebate polling showed, though a nonpartisan Rasmussen Reports poll found little change in Mrs. Clinton’s commanding lead in national polls over Messrs. Obama and Edwards, and the rest of the field.

But, as Rasmussen cautioned, its polling snapshot didn’t capture attitudes in the first voting states: “It is possible that Obama and Edwards will find a way to capitalize on the Clinton stumbles between now and the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 3.”

The rivals certainly are trying. Mr. Edwards, who is a distant third in polls nationally and has lost ground in Iowa, where he has focused his efforts, has been the most aggressive. His online video was headlined “The Politics of Parsing.” Campaigning in South Carolina Friday, Mr. Edwards kept to the theme, telling reporters, “What we saw in the debate were the politics of double talk. I have a really simple rule — if you get asked a yes-or-no question you shouldn’t give a yes-AND-no answer.”

Mr. Edwards wasn’t asked by the moderators in Tuesday’s debate for a yes-or-no answer to the question that has proved most contentious — about whether illegal immigrants should get driver’s licenses, as New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer and other states have proposed. Mrs. Clinton said it made sense, given the need to encourage all drivers to have insurance and be counted, but she refused to endorse the Spitzer proposal outright and called for comprehensive immigration law overhaul.

Edwards spokesman Eric Schultz on Friday said Mr. Edwards opposes the Spitzer proposal, due to several provisions, but “Edwards does support drivers licenses for illegal immigrants…as part of immigration reform if they are on path to citizenship, pay a fine and learn English.”

Write to Jackie Calmes at jackie.calmes@wsj.com

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