Video: Clinton upset over Obama supporter's comments

updated 2/21/2007 4:29:10 PM ET 2007-02-21T21:29:10

If you were worried that the World Wrestling Federation had lost its edge, there is good news: the first cat fight of the 2008 campaign has erupted – a tag-team Democratic fur-flier pitting the Mighty Clintons against Upstart Sen. Barack Obama and Hollywood Mogul David Geffen. As in the WWF, it is easy to guess who the winners will be. In this match, it is the Republican Party and John Edwards.

As is often the case, the fight promoter was Maureen Dowd, whose many gifts include an ability to lure public figures into saying nasty things about each other.

It probably wasn’t that hard in Geffen’s case. “David would fly half way ‘round the world to pick a fight,” said a Hollywood movie-producer friend of mine, begging for anonymity for obvious reasons. “That’s how he operates. I never wanted to be his friend and I certainly never wanted to be his enemy.”

Which now means the Clintons. He split with the former president over a number of things: the Monica Lewinsky mess, his failure to obtain last-minute pardons for some friends of his. He also has a well-developed instinct for the next new thing. So he co-hosted a $1.3 million fundraiser for Obama.

That was a dis, but Geffen went further with Dowd. “Everybody in politics lies,” he said, but the Clintons “do it with such ease it’s troubling.” He went on to hint that Bill still had marital fidelity issues, and that Hillary was over-produced, over-scripted, over-ambitious, stiff-necked and  haughty. And then he said the worst thing a Hollywood guy could say:  The Clinton Show was boring. “And I’m tired of hearing James Carville on television,” he said.

Abe Lincoln pedestal
All of that was entertaining enough, but the Clinton Camp added to the fun by going ballistic the moment they saw the Dowd column on Drudge. I’m obviously not privy to what goes on in their conference calls, but I have it on reasonable authority that they immediately concluded that Geffen had given them an opening to try to do what they’d been itching to do for weeks:  knock St. Barack off of the idealistic Abe Lincoln pedestal he has been on for months.

And, for good measure, they wanted to show – forcefully – that they weren’t going to allow Democratic rivals (or allies of their rivals) to do the work of the GOP and raise the “character issue” (remember the 1990s?) without responding. The reason: if they couldn’t defend against Democrats on this point, how could Hillary convince primary voters that she could withstand GOP attacks next year? If it’s all about “electability,” she has to prove that now.

Then there is the general feeling that the race is going to be nasty anyway, so why not get it on – especially since Hillary and her crowd know all too well how to play the game rough, given not only the presidential history but the bloodthirsty feeding habits of New York media, politicians and consultants.

And, in fact, what Geffen said probably was a little harsh.

Clinton spin master Howard Wolfson – one of the best and toughest in the business – climbed onto the high horse, demanding that Obama denounce Geffen’s remarks, dismiss him from the campaign (even though he has no title in it) and – here is the beauty party, as Ross Perot used to say – give back the money.

Lincoln bedroom defense
My sense is that the Obama campaign was, at least momentarily, taken aback by this ferocity. But it didn’t take them long to answer, sending their own message of combat-readiness. Communications Director Robert Gibbs (a match for Wolfson in the take-no-prisoners department) noted that Geffen once had been one of the Clintons’ “biggest supporters” and a guest in the Lincoln Bedroom and that Hillary had lavishly praised a supporter who told the world that Obama would “drag down the rest of the Democratic Party because he is black.”

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Out in Hollywood, meanwhile, the after-buzz of the Obama event was still loud. “The thing is, young people respond to him, and that is our audience, too,” my producer friend said. “I’m undecided – it’s too early – but I am intrigued.”

Hillary, for her part, was flying into LA to quietly lock up major commitments from fundraisers and donors in discreet meetings– rather that compete just yet with Obamamania. That will come later, and I bet she raises more than $1.3 million.

And the winner is...
So who won the cat fight?

Neither Hillary nor Obama. As the day wore on, Hillary got a chance to follow up Wolfson’s gambit and she declined, refusing at a forum in Nevada to demand that Obama repudiate Geffen’s remarks. Does Hillary really want to get in a fight with Geffen? Probably not, nor does she want to rehash the 1990s. As for Obama, why get in it with Hillary more than you absolutely have to?

Two winners: Edwards, who has his own Hollywood following, though not as fervent a one; and the GOP, whose leaders are loving watching the Hollywood gang war. “We love it when Democrats fight over which of them is closer to a billionaire LA movie mogul,” a GOP strategist in New York told me. “That’s really where the American mainstream is: on the West Side of LA!”

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