Starting Gate: Are You Experienced?

(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
It's 1993 all over again. It may have taken a little while but the Democratic presidential contest is turning from personalities to sharp disagreement on issues just in time for what could be a decisive March 4th primary date. The issues driving the argument come right out of the 1990s.

Clinton lashed out at Obama over the weekend, accusing his campaign of sending out a misleading direct mail piece claiming that her health care proposal would force Americans to buy health care insurance whether they can afford to or not. "Shame on you, Barack Obama," Clinton told reporters Saturday. "It is time you ran a campaign consistent with your messages in public - that's what I expect from you."

For months, Clinton has raised differences in their competing health care proposals, seeking an advantage on an issue near the top of voter concerns and to highlight the experience she claims would make her a more effective president. Unlike Clinton, Obama's plan does not mandate that all adults be covered, a point she brings up at nearly every debate. Clinton's insistence that any approach to health care reform that does not start out with universal coverage is doomed to fail is designed to communicate a central message of her campaign – she knows the ways of Washington and can accomplish what Obama cannot.

But what advantage she might gain with that argument on health care is being blunted smartly by Obama's increasing focus on NAFTA, the free-trade agreement signed by former President Clinton in 1994 that is wildly unpopular among many Democrats – particularly those in industrial states like Ohio. Obama yesterday hammered Clinton for picking and choosing what she claims as experience. "The notion that you can selectively pick what you take credit for and then run away from what isn't politically convenient, that doesn't make sense," he said.

Obama's campaign has a separate mailer on NAFTA which the Clinton camp says is unfair. But it's a difficult issue to avoid – Bill Clinton made NAFTA a high priority early in his administration and if her experience is tied to those White House years, she can't easily separate the good from the unpopular. "I am fighting to change NAFTA," Clinton said Saturday. "Neither of us were in the Senate when NAFTA passed. Neither voted one way or the other." But only one of them is claiming eight years of White House experience as part of their resume, and it could prevent Clinton from winning this argument.

Sooner Or Nader: As the world knows by now, Ralph Nader announced yesterday that he will once again run for president as a third-party candidate. The question is, what party? On his Web site, Nader's campaign manager, Sally Soriano, says Nader will discuss ballot access in the coming days but hints that he may turn to the Green Party line, which he ran on in 2000.

But Steve Chaggaris, CBS News's Director of Political Coverage talked with ballot access expert Richard Winger and takes a look at some of the hurdles Nader has:

1.) Nader has not declared he's running for the nomination of any party. In 2000, he ran as the Green Party's nominee; in 2004, he was on the Reform Party line in many states and on the Independence Party line in New York State. This year, there is no Reform Party anymore and former U.S. Rep. Cynthia McKinney is running for the Green Party nod.

2.) If he does not seek the nomination of a party and runs as an "independent," it means he is not eligible for primary matching funds. In order to qualify for matching funds, you have to be a declared candidate from a recognized party (Green Party, Libertarian Party, any party that's on at least 2 state ballots). So, all of his money will have to be raised by him and his organization, without the help of matching funds.

3.) If he's not affiliated with any party, his ballot access issues become that much more difficult. The Green Party is on almost 25 state ballots as of today and it will probably get close to 45, maybe even 50 by November. If he was their nominee, he wouldn't have to worry about ballot access. Running as independent of any party, he's going to have to work to get himself on states' ballots all by himself. Not impossible, according to Winger - John Anderson declared his independent bid in April 1980 and got on all 50 state ballots, with more difficult ballot access rules - but it makes it much harder for him.

Also, it bears to note that Nader's influence on the presidential contest diminished significantly from 2000 to 2004. In the tight 2000 election, he received 2.7% of the total vote, and likely cost Al Gore in states like Florida. In 2004, Nader only received 0.38% of the vote - less than 475,000 votes nationwide.

Around The Track

  • In her first campaign appearance in Rhode Island (a March 4th primary), Clinton stuck with her attacks on Obama's health care plan and ventured further in her claims that the Democratic front-runner is long on talk and short on experience. "None of the problems we face will be easily solved," Clinton said according to CBS News' Fernando Suarez. "I can stand up here and say, 'Let's get everybody together, let's get unified, the sky will open, the light will come down, celestial choirs will be singing and everyone will know we should do the right thing and the world will be perfect.' Maybe I've just lived a little long, but I have no illusions how hard this thing is going to be. You are not going to waive a magic wand and have special interest disappear."
  • The DNC is filing a complaint with the FEC over John McCain's attempt to drop out of the system which would provide his campaign with federal matching funds but also force spending limits on him. But will it matter? A dispute between the White House and Senate Democrats over FEC appointments has kept the commission without a quorum.
  • Bill Clinton is doing his best to keep hopes high for his wife's campaign, telling voters in Ohio that they have the chance to revive her candidacy and reminding supporters that the pundits have declared her out before. "They took bets on how bad she'd lose in New Hampshire, and she won," he said yesterday. "It's really down to Ohio and Texas."
  • Could Mitt Romney re-enter the GOP race if McCain were to stumble? "Unlikely, but possible," son Josh Romney says, according to the Los Angeles Times' Top of the Ticket blog.