Experience Vs. Change

greenfield, barack obama kissing baby
CBS
If you're Sen. Barack Obama, your challenge is as simple as it is tricky: How do you take on a far better-known candidate with more experience?

It's a quality Sen. Hillary Clinton is putting front and center, says CBS News chief political analyst Jeff Greenfield.

"I believe that I am the best-qualified and experienced person to hit the ground running," Clinton said recently.

What you hit, over and over, is one dominant theme: change.

"People are desperate for change," said Obama. "People want a different kind of politics in this country. It's time to turn the page, right here and right now."

But if a just-released CBS News poll is right, Obama's core argument is facing some rough going. Why? Because right now, voters have a lot more doubt about Obama's experience than they do about Clinton's ability to bring change.


Poll: Lack Of Experience Hurts Obama
The most intriguing numbers go to the heart of the "experience versus change" debate, says Greenfield. Democratic voters are just about evenly split — 44 percent to 40 percent — between those who value fresh ideas over experience. But — and this is key — Clinton trounces Obama with "experience" voters by more than 3-to-1 {49 percent to 16 percent}. However, among those who value fresh ideas, the two are just about tied, with Obama supported by 38 percent of those polled and Clinton by 35 percent.

Why? In part, because Clinton's campaign seems to know the power of change. It's embedded in her slogan: "Ready to Lead, Ready to Change."

"The Democratic nominee, whoever he or she may be, will be the agent of change just by showing up," said Hank Sheinkopf, a Democratic strategist.

Sheinkopf says this poses a special challenge for Obama.

"Sen. Obama has the mandate of defining what challenge means and what's he'll bring to make that change happen," said Sheinkopf.

This may be why Obama points to his early opposition to the Iraq war, to argue that his judgment trumps her experience, and why Clinton argues that Obama's public discussion about attacking al Qaeda bases in Pakistan shows he's not ready for prime time.

There are two more pieces of troublesome news for Obama, adds Greenfield. First, only 41 percent of Democrats now think he has the experience a president needs. Then there's the question of his name: One in 10 voters say it sounds somewhat foreign=, and nearly one in four say it might cause him problems.

Obama's campaign has said for months that, in time, he will draw a clear portrait of what kind of change he means to bring. These poll numbers, and the early primary calendar, suggest that time may be sooner rather than later.