Starting Gate: Deja Vu All Over Again?

(CBS/The Early Show)
The "experience v. change" argument in the Democratic primary contest is taking on a new direction, with many (including in the media) beginning to challenge Hillary Clinton's claims to experience and all-but pointing out hypocrisy in the criticisms being made of Barack Obama – especially from former President Bill Clinton.

An article by the AP's Ron Fournier being widely circulated points out that the arguments being made by the Clintons are reminiscent of what Republicans said about Bill Clinton in the 1992 general election. The underlying message fits nicely into Obama's response – of all people, how could Bill Clinton criticize a presidential candidate for lack of experience?

That is a natural reaction. After all, Clinton was about Obama's age when he won the White House and, although he was elected governor or Arkansas five times, had relatively little foreign policy experience. And his message of "change" sounds very much like Obama's, something the Illinois Senator wasted little time in pointing out by reminding reporters of this quote from Clinton in 1992: "The same old experience is irrelevant. You can have the right kind of experience or the wrong kind of experience. And mine is rooted in the real lives of real people, and it will bring real results if we have the courage to change."'

Fair enough, there's no doubt that Clinton rode a similar wave of "change" that Obama is today. But one thing seems to be missing in this discussion – the realization that it is 2008, not 1992. First off, in 1992, most perceived Democratic heavyweights took a pass at a chance to run against a president whose approval ratings had hit astronomic levels after the Gulf War. Mario Cuomo, Dick Gephardt, Al Gore, Bill Bradley and Sam Nunn were among those who left the field to Clinton, Paul Tsongas, Bob Kerrey, Tom Harkin and others.

This Democratic field represents far more heft and star power – Clinton, Obama, John Edwards, Joe Biden, Bill Richardson and Chris Dodd. Not to mention that the prospects just under one year out are far brighter for Democrats than they were at this point in the 1992 cycle. Add to that ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the threat of terrorism, uncertain economic and political realities in the world and it makes the "where's my stuff" and "peace dividend" sentiments from 1992 look positively pedestrian.

The apparent failure of the Clinton campaign to sell this argument to Democratic primary voters is clearly frustrating, especially to Bill Clinton – who probably didn't help inoculate his wife from the establishment yesterday by suggesting she would send former President Bush and himself on a global goodwill tour if elected. It's the campaign's job to make the case for the election, but let's not kid ourselves into thinking we're re-running the 1992 campaign in 2008.

He's Out, He's In: After reports yesterday that Rudy Giuliani's campaign was reducing its commitment and spending in New Hampshire, the campaign announced a new pre-Christmas push in the Granite State. Armed with a brand new slogan, "Tested. Ready. Now," Giuliani will spend Friday, Saturday and Sunday stumping in the state before taking a short Christmas break.

Giuliani has failed to catch on in New Hampshire and the fierce two-way battle between Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney have led some observers to begin wondering if the New Yorker's back-loaded strategy may be more doable. Should Romney – or any other Republican – fail to run the table in the early states, Giuliani may be able to capitalize on the uncertainty when Florida rolls around, followed by Super-Duper Tuesday. But de-emphasizing New Hampshire could still leave Giuliani on the sidelines, and he pledged yesterday to "do everything we can to win the vote" there.

Just What Clinton Wanted For Christmas? While most of the attention has been on the Clinton-Obama dynamic, Edwards hasn't been idle, remaining a real threat to win the Iowa caucuses and gaining the endorsement yesterday of the state's First Lady, Mari Culver. And tensions are rising between Edwards and Obama, who once focused their fire jointly at Clinton. "Senator Edwards, who is a good guy, he's been talking a lot about 'I'm going to fight the lobbyists and the special interests in Washington,'" Obama said yesterday. "Well, the question you have to ask is: Were you fighting for (people) when you were in the Senate?"

Obama's remarks came in the wake of increasing criticisms leveled by Edwards on the issue of challenging the influence of lobbyists. Obama has in the past said lobbyists would have a place at his policy table alongside of others who he says are currently excluded. "I believe that Barack Obama's philosophy does not match the reality that corporate greed cannot be stopped by asking politely," Edwards said over the weekend. "I know you have to fight these people." Should the sniping between Obama and Edwards escalate, the Clinton campaign will be relieved but not overly so given the unpredictable and tight nature of the race.

Around The Track

  • The League of Conservation Voters will release its 2008 presidential primaries voter guide this morning and, to nobody's surprise, it's heavy on praise for the Democratic field and not so much so for the GOP candidates. But look for one Republican to get a special shout-out from the group – John McCain, long a GOP favorite of environmental groups. The LCV will not endorse a candidate in the primary. Clarification: The LCV is not endorsing a primary candidate at this time, it is still possible the group could do so.
  • The Edwards campaign is promoting its Caucus Command Center Web site with a new "movie trailer" production. From the trailer: "In a world where corn grows tall and hope grows taller … one man can clean up George Bush's mess."
  • Obama isn't the only candidate courting the Iowa student vote. Edwards reached out with an op-ed in the Daily Iowan, reports UWire, which has chronicled Obama's aggressive efforts in turning out college students on Jan. 3rd. "As president, I will create a national College for Everyone initiative based on the Greene County program," Edwards wrote in the op-ed. "I will also make it easier for students to apply for financial aid by hiring more college counselors to give students the tools they need to get into college and get financial aid. And I will simplify the complicated application process for financial aid, so more families can take advantage of the resources available to them."
  • Earvin "Magic" Johnson will hit the campaign trail in Iowa with the Clintons today.