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Analysis: White House criticism of Sen. Clinton could boost candidate _ and feed doubts

Analysis: White House criticism of Sen. Clinton could boost candidate _ and feed doubts

Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton says she feels lucky to be the target of White House criticism. And while the barbs might bring her good fortune _ and campaign dollars _ in the short term, they also could remind voters about her weaknesses come U.S. Election Day 2008.
In the race for the Democratic nomination, any presidential candidate would relish engaging the White House in a little one-on-one confrontation. For Clinton, it increases the perception that she is the inevitable nominee and could help galvanize anti-Bush Democrats to her side.
But voters also are hearing what the White House has to say _ that she is fatally flawed, weak on national security and unconscionable in her political criticism. And perhaps most threatening to her in the primary campaign is the idea that she's too polarizing to win the presidency, said Democratic consultant Jenny Backus.
"There is a long-term danger to her and to the campaign to laugh it off and say it's a good thing because electability is a challenge that the Clinton campaign has to face," Backus said.
"In a primary, it's like getting a $1 million check when it comes to Internet fundraising," Backus said. "The problem for Hillary Clinton is that she may have to use $750,000 of it to challenge the electability argument."
And that is just the argument that White House political adviser Karl Rove was making.
"There is no front-runner who has entered the primary season with negatives as high as she has in the history of modern polling," Rove said on the Rush Limbaugh radio show earlier this week. "There's nobody who has ever won the presidency who started out in that kind of position."
Said Sara Taylor, a former Rove deputy and one-time White House political director: "It may be good for her base, but short-term gain could prove to have long-term pain for her. This episode reminds independent and soft Republican voters what they dislike about Clinton."
Rove's numerous criticisms of Clinton were paired with a rebuke from White House spokeswoman Dana Perino on Tuesday. Perino was questioned about a Clinton ad in which she says struggling families and U.S. troops are "invisible" to President George W. Bush.
Perino initially said she would not _ fitting with Bush's reluctance to weigh into the presidential campaign _ and referred questions to the Republican National Committee. But then she launched into a critique of the ad, calling it outrageous and absurd, and of Clinton, saying it was unconscionable for her to say such a thing.
Perino said Thursday she will not do it again.
"We're going to let the RNC answer anything further. At this point in the game, it's all politics coming from those camps," she said. The RNC is the Republican National Committee.
The Clinton campaign was thrilled when Perino spoke out and quickly linked the official White House transcript to her campaign Web site with the headline, "White House Attacks Hillary's New Ad."
"Apparently I've struck a nerve," Clinton.
Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson said supporters have been rallying behind the candidate, but he said he would not give out fundraising figures in the aftermath of the dispute. He said it's no coincidence that the White House criticism is coming as Clinton's lead in national polls is increasing.
"The fact that Karl Rove and the Republicans have chosen to engage this early is because they see her as the best and strongest candidate and would like to do what they can to weaken her," Wolfson said.
But some Clinton aides worry that his criticisms underscore concerns of Democratic activists, including her own supporters. Clinton's unfavorability ratings are already at a historic high, and a senior Clinton adviser, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there is some concern in the campaign that Rove's remarks are more likely to raise those negatives.
As she made obvious by seizing on the words, the prevailing view in the Clinton campaign is that Rove's remarks help her with the party's base voters who hate Bush's senior aide. But that view is not firmly held nor unanimous, the official said.
David Axelrod, an adviser to Clinton rival Barack Obama, compared the Clinton-Bush fighting to the movie "Groundhog Day," when a weatherman relives the worst day of his life over and over again.
"There may be folks who are partisans on both sides who are nostalgic and who are engaged by this," Axelrod said. "But we are going to win this election by attracting voters both within the Democratic Party and nationally who understand we have been hobbled by partisanship in the extreme, of which Rove frankly is the master architect. We don't need to re-enact that for another election cycle, and if we do it will portend another four years of scorched Earth politics."


Updated : 2021-10-24 20:51 GMT+08:00