Deploying Hillary

The next few weeks are going to be very interesting in terms of political strategy as well as tactics. The introduction of Sarah Palin into the electoral mix has badly disconcerted the Dems and thrown them off stride.

The Obama campaign’s initial reaction was to go after her directly by questioning her credentials and experience. That blew up in their face when such question created the opportunity for Republicans to redirect such questions against Obama’s credentials and experience while reminding everyone that Palin was the bottom of the Republican ticket while Obama stood atop of the Democratic ticket.

Democratic smear merchants then attacked her family by spreading vicious and unsubstantiated rumors (all of which turned out to be false). That too has blown up in their face and removed from their quiver of complaints any mention of “right-wing smear” for at least the remainder of this election.

It appears, now, that the dust is beginning to settle a bit, that the Obama campaign has decided on a new approach. First, it will back off on the Palin criticism. In addition to the problems it creates for Obama, it keeps a very attractive Republican candidate in the spotlight when they do.

But they still have to find a way to counter the excitement Palin’s selection has created among undecided women who aren’t all that hung-up on the abortion question but are buzzed about seeing a woman included on a major party ticket.

The simple and cynical answer? Deploy Clinton. And that appears to be precisely what they’re going to do:

Hillary Rodham Clinton has no intention of becoming a Sarah Palin attack dog — but has no qualms about going after John McCain, people close to the former first lady say.

“She’s not the answer when it comes to winning conservative women — she never was — and we’re not going to be anybody’s attack dog against Sarah Palin,” said a Clinton insider. “To be fair to Obama’s people, they haven’t asked us to do that.”

Slamming Palin to win back women already hostile to Obama is pointless, the insider said, because Clinton’s most loyal base is working-class voters, not women in particular. “Attacking Palin is checkers, attacking McCain on the economy is chess.”

Clinton will continue to yoke McCain and Palin to President Bush on pocketbook issues. But sources say that Clinton, who supports abortion rights, isn’t likely to criticize the Alaska governor for her anti-abortion stance. She may, however, question Palin’s record on equal-pay issues.

If Clinton does that, she may be effective. Then again she may not. It really depends on how the people she’s meant to influence view her deployment. Palin seems to have quieted most of the qualms initially voiced about her ability to do the job. Given the poll numbers that have come out about her, she’s not seen as a “cynical” pick by a majority of Americans, but, instead, a breath of fresh air and more in the mold of the “change” the country is seeking than the other ticket.

On the other hand, Clinton has all but been rejected by the Obama campaign until now. Will her sudden deployment be seen as a cynical attempt to woo those voters Palin appeals too after all but telling her she wasn’t wanted previously? As Amy Holmes notes:

In a strange twist of logic, the Obama campaign is touting the woman they passed over as the woman they need to beat the woman the other guy picked.

That’s going to be pretty transparent to the voters in question. So how will they react?

My guess is, if skillfully managed, the Republicans can turn Clinton’s deployment into a positive for themselves. Plenty of video and audio from Clinton out there which can be used to counter her support of Obama while at the same time reminding voters she just wasn’t good enough for the Obama campaign.

That assumes, as I said, skillful managment. To this point, frankly, I’ve thought the McCain campaign has done an above average job in that department, while I’ve not been particularly impressed with the Obama campaign (which he touts as the experience commensurate with Palin’s as a mayor).

Bottom line: I think that the use of Clinton and her increased visibility could, in fact, end up hurting Obama. Reminders that a) it is the Republicans who have a woman on the ticket, b) that Clinton has said many things which will directly contradict her claims on the stump and c) Clinton may end up being nastier than the campaign wants which could backfire on them. Although Hillary is much more disciplined than Bill, she is also harsher and less appealing.

And, of course, if Bill decides to insert himself, it could get even worse.

So keep an eye on Hill (and Bill) and monitor what they say and what they do. They could provide yet another interesting twist in the most interesting presidential campaign in a century.

Quoting Holmes again:

So, let’s get this straight. They didn’t choose her and her 18 million voters to put on the ticket. They gave the VP spot to Joe Biden. But now that Sarah Palin has arrived on the political scene, they’re promoting Hillary as the female answer to the Republican VP nominee. Awkward, to say the least.

And as one female democratic strategist tells me, don’t think that Hillary hasn’t noticed.

My guess is the voters will as well.

[Crossposted at QandO]

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