Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Make-or-Break for Obama

Tonight's Democratic debate could be critical to his chances of catching up, but Barack Obama will be caught between a rock, Hillary Clinton, and a hard place, a stageful of also-rans competing for the sound bite or riposte to lift them into the top tier--not the best milieu for a candidate who rose to recognition through candor, personal charm and a thoughtful approach to public policy.

Last weekend, the New York Times led off a report on an interview: "Senator Barack Obama said he would start confronting Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton more directly and forcefully." Easier said than done, and time is getting short.

After almost a year of foreplay, the nominations will be consummated three months from now on Super Tuesday, February 5th, when twenty states with over half the convention delegates hold primary elections. In the month before, Iowa and New Hampshire will provide some clues.

Against a backdrop of discouraging polls, Obama has been under great pressure from supporters to take the offensive, but is it in his nature or, at this point, even in his interest?

Criticizing Clinton so far has been like throwing rocks at a bulldozer, as John Edwards' efforts in the past weeks have shown. If Obama goes on the attack, it can't be over complex issues such as health care, Social Security or tax reform and it's too late to keep talking about his 2002 opposition to the war in Iraq.

Obama is left with only one opening--Iran. Clinton's vote for the Kyle-Lieberman resolution leaves her vulnerable to charges of being Bush-lite on dealing with the challenges of the Middle East, and Obama can point to a new Zogby poll showing that a majority of Americans are ready to confront Iran and claim that Clinton has contributed once again to public support for an unnecessary war.

But that will be a hard sell, and if Republican reactions are any guide, Obama's chances are slim. Even Dick Cheney is now making little jokes about his cousin Barack, something he would never do if Obama's chances of getting the nomination looked better.

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