Obama and Clinton Camps Spar Over Trust, MI/FL Situation

| Fri Mar. 21, 2008 1:58 PM EDT

Sometimes it feels like both campaigns have an endless supply of spin. On a conference call today with reporters, Obama campaign aides pushed a new Gallup polls that shows just 53 percent of Americans think Hillary Clinton is trustworthy. "To head into the general election with over half the electorate not thinking you're trustworthy is a problem," said Obama's surrogates. The campaign insisted that Clinton's campaign tactics only bolster her perceived distrustfulness. They cited her newly released First Lady schedules as evidence: The schedules show Clinton in meetings intended to sell NAFTA, seemingly contradicting current claims that she is a long-time opponent of the trade agreement.

The Clinton campaign had its own conference call a few minutes later and had responses ready. "The Obama campaign is in political hot water," said spokesman Phil Singer, referencing the ongoing controversy over Rev. Wright's sermons, "and is desperate to change the subject." The discussion about trustworthiness and the First Lady schedules is a "full assault on Senator Clinton's character," the Clinton campaign insisted. It pointed to the fact that David Gergen, who moderated one of the NAFTA meetings then-First Lady Clinton attended, has said recently "Hillary Clinton was extremely unenthusiastic about NAFTA. And I think that's putting it mildly." In response to the Gallup poll, chief strategist Mark Penn took care to point out that in poll after poll, Hillary Clinton is identified as the best potential commander-in-chief in the Democratic field. Clearly voters have some kind of trust in her, Penn argued.

And then there is the issue of Michigan and Florida.

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Little progress has been made in Florida to sort out the status of that state's delegation, but just last week it looked like Michigan was heading to a June 3 do-over. But the Obama campaign, citing a variety of questions about the state's preparedness and the integrity of a revote, declined to support the idea. It is most likely a political move: Florida and Michigan do-overs would extend the primary season into summer, valuable time that Obama wants, as the frontrunner, to do battle with John McCain. From Obama's perspective, the faster the nomination is sewn up, the better.

Additionally, Obama could lose both states, giving Clinton momentum, more delegates, and a shot at capturing the popular vote lead.

The Clinton campaign made the point that if Michigan and Florida don't have their current vote totals counted (per the DNC's current stand), and they aren't given a chance to revote (as the Obama campaign appears to prefer), there is going to be an awful lot of angry Democrats in two key battleground states. "The Obama campaign is pursuing a strategy that is good for Senator Obama's nomination chances, but bad for the Democrats in November," said the surrogates on Clinton's conference call. They pointed out that the Obama campaign has made much of its amazing ability to turn out new voters, but seems to have no problem "disenfranchising" two whole states. More evidence, they said, that "for all the rhetoric, all the speeches, the Obama campaign is just words."

But the Clinton campaign isn't an innocent party. While it slams Obama for disenfranchising Michigan and Florida, it is hoping the superdelegates will help them surmount Obama's pledged delegate lead. A reporter on the conference call asked if this wouldn't be another form of disenfranchisement: party insiders overriding the will of the people.

The Clinton campaign had an endless supply of spin to answer the question, none of which made much sense. Mark Penn said the superdelegates will look at who won the pledged delegate count, who won the popular vote, who won the most primary states versus caucus states, who is the most electable, who is the most ready to be president, and a number of other factors and then make their decisions. And maybe they'll look at something the Clinton campaign seems to have invented, "primary delegates," which are pledged delegates won in primaries but not caucuses, to see which candidate won the most support in the more democratic of the two types of contests. (Clinton currently trails by a small amount in the "primary delegate" tally, but could make up the difference with a strong showing in Pennsylvania.)

Nothing the campaign could say convinced anybody that their strategy doesn't rest on overruling the votes of the people, a scenario that can be reasonably described as the disenfranchisement of tens of millions of primary voters. The fact that disenfranchisement is an accusation Clinton is throwing at Obama even while she plans a superdelegate strategy, and the fact that Obama seems ready to kill a do-over in Michigan in order to better his political fortunes, illustrates one thing: disenfranchisement is in the eye of the beholder.