Monday, December 03, 2007

Hillary Threatens Hari-Kari

The Washington Post says it. So, after Perry Bacon Jr.'s boner we have to admit it might not be true. But an AP dispatch to the New York Times says it, too. So does yesterday's Des Moines Register.

Hillary Clinton, who is now trailing Barack Obama in the latest Iowa Poll, is going on the attack against Barack Obama 's "character" just one month before the Iowa caucuses.

That is a mistake of historic proportions. Political hari-kari. If she follows through on the threat, Hillary likely will finish third in Iowa -- not second and certainly not first.

Iowa Democrats on the whole do not like attack ads. They especially do not like attack ads in the last few weeks or days of a campaign. The political landscape of Iowa is littered with the corpses of candidates who didn't know that -- or forgot it -- starting with Evan Hultman's weekend-before-election-day smear of Harold Hughes back in 1964 and going right up to the surprise victory of Tom Vilsack over the execrable Jim Ross Lightfoot in the 1998 race for governor.

To be sure, those were general elections in which the mud-slinger was (of course) a Republican. But the same rule holds when it comes to primary caucus contests, too. That's one of the top reasons why Jimmy Carter did so well in Iowa in 1976. For some reason, mud-slinging energizes Iowa Democrats -- either to go out and vote for the victim or to vote against the slinger.

Until now, many Iowa Democrats have been uncertain about both Obama and Clinton, to judge from the polls and reporters' campaign tales. Iowa Democrats seem to have found a lot to like about Barack Obama. But they worry he may be too young and inexperienced right now.

They have liked Hillary too. But one worry some voice is that she is too clever by half and can't see past her own ambition to arrive at the moral center of things. Case in point: her votes in favor of the Bush administration's Iraq war resolution and more recently what many fear eventually will be known as the Iran 'war' resolution.

That's almost exactly the way Evan Hultman and Harold Hughes were viewed by Iowans right up to the Friday before the 1964 election of a new state governor. When Hultman unleashed his dogs on Hughes, the backlash was so ferocious Hultman's political career ended. Abruptly, permanently.

If Hillary persists in the new strategy as reported, the all-but-certain loss she'll suffer in the January 3 Iowa caucuses will set her back in many other early primary states as well. She might be able to stop the bleeding elsewhere, say on Super Tuesday, but it will take more time, more effort, and quite likely more primaries than she is counting on.

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