Obama Watches as Clinton Stumbles

From CBS News National Correspondent Dean Reynolds, who's covering the Obama campaign:

Barack Obama's campaign is sitting back and watching.

Yes, he is campaigning tirelessly across Iowa. Five events per day. Part of a bus tour that takes him from the Mississippi to the Missouri. The crowds are friendly and Obama is "on."

But you can tell from talking to his aides that something else is vying for their attention and it's no secret. The decline and possible fall of Hillary Clinton's campaign is riveting to journalists so you can imagine how closely it is being watched by her rivals here and in New Hampshire. They relish it.

Even though she had a glimmer of good news by receiving the Des Moines Register's endorsement last night, the polls are not good for the Clinton campaign. Her decline seems inexorable at what is surely a critical point in this campaign. And one could argue that a ham-handed counter-offensive has not helped. At all.

One day the Clinton camp is dissing Obama's supposed overweaning ambition for wanting to be president his whole life, i.e., since he "wrote" an essay in kindergarten about his desire to be president. Wrote an essay?

Obama laughs it off -- and so do his crowds, by the way -- saying that the most he could write in kindergarten was his name. Besides, the Clintons are calling somebody overly-ambitious?

Then comes Hillary's top New Hampshire operative slurring Obama by suggesting that the senator's admitted drug use as a teenager would be fodder for Republicans during a general election campaign. Whether it would be or not, Sen. Clinton was soon seeking a tarmac face-to-face with Obama -- to apologize. Understand, they barely speak. They are rivals. To have to apologize must have been difficult for the erstwhile frontrunner for the nomination. Needless to say, the aide was fired. And the Clinton campaign had another bad news cycle to endure. The list goes on.

Lately, both Hillary and Bill Clinton have begun arguing that a victory by Obama in Iowa would not be such a big deal. Why? Because Obama comes from neighboring Illinois and is practically a favorite son candidate, they say. He might also be polluting the results by encouraging out-of-state students who attend school in Iowa to come and vote in the state's caucuses.

And they have been arguing for weeks that he lacks the experience necessary to be president. Bill Clinton made the charge again on Friday.

That draws a smile to Obama's face. One the one hand the Clinton's argue that he has no experience worthy of the White House and on the other hand they argue that he has enough muscle to beat them in the vital Iowa caucuses. Besides, he reminds reporters, "When I was 20 points down they all thought I was a wonderful guy."

Of course it was when he was 20 points down that Obama pivoted and became much more aggressive toward Clinton. It seems to have paid off.

There is a skip in Obama's step now, and it's not just because he is drawing the biggest crowds of the campaign, with a little help from his friend Oprah.

But he keeps his head down and plows through the same speech in town after town. He looks like he enjoys himself. He's not making much news and that's okay. Because right now, there is no need to do much more.

There is an old political adage that says, "When your opponent is committing political suicide, just get out of the way." For now, at least, Barack Obama seems to be doing just that.

  • Dean Reynolds

    Dean Reynolds is a CBS News National Correspondent based in Chicago.