And last week had gone so well for Barack Obama. Until Friday afternoon. This week in presidential politics, the spotlight will shine brightly on the Democratic frontrunner, with a suddenly critical debate Wednesday in Philadelphia against Hillary Clinton. This week’s debate comes six days before the April 22 Pennsylvania primary, a must-win-big affair for Clinton in her struggle to retain relevance in the race. Pennsylvania is a perfect state for Clinton — older, whiter, with established political machines and a closed primary in which independents can’t vote — but Obama has been coming on strong there. He closed what was once a 25-point gap in the Keystone State into single digits.
But that was before Friday afternoon’s report in, of all places, the vehemently pro-O Huffington Post, about his remarks at a private fundraiser on April 6 in San Francisco. The event was closed to the press and off the record, but an Obama supporter, an activist blogger who has given the maximum allowable contribution to Obama, was allowed in and proceeded to record the freshman Illinois senator’s lengthy (45 minutes off-the-cuff) remarks. She blogged about them.
Very late in her piece, with Obama talking about the plight of some in small town Pennsylvania, came some magic words. About “bitter” people, “clinging to guns and religion.” Whoops! That was all it took for the John McCain campaign, with senior advisor Steve Schmidt, former head of the Bush/Cheney campaign war room, leading the way, to rapidly mobilize every media organ of the Republican Party. The Clinton campaign was slower to get its act together, but, with options closing down, jumped on even harder.
Jumped on a little too hard, probably, with “I’m not bitter” stickers reportedly going mostly unused at Clinton rallies and the candidate herself pretending to be an avid gun-lover and church-goer. Which, as it happens, she is certainly not, since she won’t say the last time she fired a gun or went to church. But the Clintons are happy to change the subject from Bill Clinton’s stunning “explanation” for Hillary Clinton’s lies about her purported Bosnia “landing under sniper fire.” The former president came up with a stunner, a multi-faceted fabrication to rationalize his wife’s multi-faceted fabrication.
While the Democrats engage in their fresh round of follies, McCain will continue to raise money and organize for the general election.
Before the report of Obama’s private fundraiser remarks emerged, McCain’s week had gone only fairly well. The final three candidates each had their “presidential” moments last Tuesday questioning General David Petraeus when he appeared before the Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committees to report on the situation in Iraq, where things had been going quite well before the recent factional fighting, uncomfortably settled by Iran. Obama and Clinton both did fine, as did McCain. Except for when he confused the Shia with the Sunni. Whoops.
But we know that he knows the difference, so the verbal gaffe hasn’t hurt him. Yet.
It could, however, in a different way. When Silvestre Reyes, a Texas Democratic congressman, became chairman of the House Intelligence Committee in one of Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s worst moves, it emerged that he actually did not know the difference between Shia and Sunni. McCain quite obviously does. But there is an emerging narrative about him being pushed by his partisan enemies.
Just as Obama is being pushed by his partisan enemies as an elitist who is not a real American, and Clinton is being pushed as a liar who is dangerously ruthless, McCain is being pushed as a doddering warmonger.
While he continues to back the military surge in Iraq that he championed, McCain’s campaign will continue to look for ways to appeal to all-important independent voters by showing that he is a different kind of Republican, appealing to Latinos and blacks and young voters. He’ll also be campaigning in Pennsylvania this week while the Democrats duke it out there. It’s a state the McCain campaign would love to take in the general election.
Bill Bradley is a Pajamas Media correspondent. His PajamasXpress blog is New West Notes.