As the assassination of former Pakistan Prime and opposition leader Minister Benazir Bhutto dominates the news today, the presidential candidates and campaigns are reacting with concern and condolences. They, and the rest of the political watchers, have already begun trying to figure out how events halfway around the world may impact the race – if at all.
At first glance, the unrest roiling a crucial part of the world would seem to help Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani. Clinton has built her campaign around experience, which has become something of a code word for "grown up" over the course of the year. Her years in the White House and Senate, combined with the establishment backing she has, should make her at least appear to be the steady choice to handle crisis situations like this.
But it's worth remembering that Clinton criticized Barack Obama when he suggested earlier this year that the U.S. should use military force to go into the border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan if evidence demonstrated that it would aid in the capture of al Qaeda terrorist leaders like Osama bin Laden – with the permission of the current government or not. A position which may have sounded risky at the time may look better after today. Such an action may not have prevented the tragedy but it's clear that Pakistan is a growing problem – and that al Qaeda is a big part of it. Obama can remind voters that he recognized that earlier.
For Giuliani, and his focus on national security, it's a chance to get back into the story in a news that isn't about his campaign problems, health or his personal life. And it gets his issues back on the front burner, if only for the moment. But Republicans worried about an uncertain world may take another look at John McCain as well. The Arizona senator was at one time the Republican frontrunner for a reason and the acknowledged elder statesman of the field. For a party that generally rewards such candidates, the suddenly surging McCain may appear more attractive than alternatives with relatively little foreign policy experience.
No one can say for sure if events in Pakistan will have any impact at all on the race. But with just a week to go in an extremely tight contest in both parties, no major news story can be ignored.
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