Pennsylvania residents witnessed perhaps the most vitriolic days of the Democratic primary race over the weekend, with Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton slapping back and forth at one another in campaign stops across the state.
The Obama campaign has largely steered clear of negative advertising over the course of the primary contest. But, as CBS News reported, over the last several days "Obama has begun to fight fire with fire. In ads, campaign mailings and rhetoric, Obama is getting much tougher as this campaign (perhaps) nears some sort of finish line."
Four new TV ads released since late last week demonstrate the fierce tone that the Obama team has adopted in Pennsylvania, with the Illinois senator hitting Clinton on health care, ties to lobbyists and what he characterizes as her negative tactics.
"Dime" was crafted in response to a Clinton spot accusing Obama of being dishonest about his relationship with lobbyists and oil company executives. "Across Pennsylvania families are struggling. What's Hillary Clinton's answer? The same old politics -- misleading negative ads," an announcer charges. He goes on to defend Obama's record of fighting oil companies and repeat the claim that Obama is "the only candidate who doesn't take a dime from oil company PACs or lobbyists."
In "Afford," Obama seeks to shift attention back to one of the few policy disagreements between the two Democratic candidates: a mandate for universal health care coverage. "What's [Clinton] not telling you about her health care plan?" an announcer asks. "It forces everyone to buy insurance, even if you can't afford it."
"Reason" touts a litany of Pennsylvania newspaper endorsements for Obama but does not refrain from simultaneously digging at his rival. "The Post-Gazette calls Hillary Clinton's attacks the 'cynical responses of old politics,'" the ad says, quoting various editorial boards in order to deliver its attacks. Meanwhile, the spot hits on Obama's message of change with lines such as: "The Patriot News says Barack Obama 'offers real change in the White House.'"
Obama's newest ad, "Exactly," released on Sunday, represents perhaps his most striking repudiation of Clinton's candidacy. The announcer lambastes the New York senator for, "in the final hours..., launch[ing] the most misleading and negative ad of the campaign." Again maintaining that Obama doesn't take money from special interests, the spot claims that "Clinton has raised millions from PACs and lobbyists -- more than any candidate in either party," as names of special interest groups that have contributed to her campaign scroll across the screen. Hammering home its message, the spot concludes: "Eleventh-hour smears paid for by lobbyists' money; isn't that exactly what we need to change?"
In addition to what's on TV, voters are also seeing "dueling" mailers from the two campaigns on trade issues.
Clinton's 'Closing argument'
Given the intensity of the competition between Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton during the Pennsylvania primary campaign, it's hardly surprising that both candidates released a flurry of new advertising over the weekend -- or that much of it was negative.
By some measures, Clinton's camp has toned down its message since last week -- when one report suggested she was running only attack ads in many parts of the state -- but her latest slew of advertising could hardly be described as a soft sell. Of the five new TV ads Clinton unveiled in the past 24 hours, one implicitly questions Obama's experience and two others are direct attacks.
"Kitchen" makes something of a historical case against Obama. Using footage of the Pearl Harbor attack, Nikita Khrushchev, gas lines in the '70s, Osama bin Laden and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the spot makes a classic sales pitch for the "experience" candidate without ever mentioning Obama directly. "It's the toughest job in the world.... Who do you think has what it takes?" an announcer asks.
"It's really our closing argument in Pennsylvania, unlike Senator Obama's closing argument that has really been negative and an assault on Senator Clinton," said Clinton strategist Geoff Garin in a conference call with reporters. When pressed on the ad's implicit contrast between Obama's readiness to lead and Clinton's, Garin called it "entirely a positive ad." "To say that she is the best choice" to lead the country, "there's nothing negative about that," he added.
"Talk" returns to the candidates' recent fight over lobbyist and oil company money, accusing Obama of having taken "almost $2 million from lobbyists, corporations and PACs." (Obama swore off such donations during the presidential race, but he has accepted them in past elections.)
Rounding out the trifecta of attacks, Clinton's camp responded to an earlier Obama spot criticizing her health care plan with an ad of its own. In Clinton's counterattack, she takes shots at Obama's last debate performance as well as the lack of an individual mandate provision in his health care plan. "Hillary's plan covers everyone. Obama's leaves 15 million people out," the ad says. "There are more and more questions about Barack Obama. Instead of attacking, maybe he should answer them."
Not all of Clinton's media buy was negative, however. One of the new ads, "For People," features Pennsylvanians praising Clinton for having "the middle class' interests at heart." "Hillary really fights for the working people," says one voter. "She will follow through on what she has said she will do," says another.
"Spoke Out" hits similarly familiar points, bashing President Bush's policies and reminding viewers that Clinton has long favored subprime mortgage reform. "Bush did nothing. Now the economy is sliding into recession," an announcer says. "Home values are plummeting and people are hurting."
Besides touting Clinton's economic credentials, the two spots remind voters of a key Clinton talking point: that she is the candidate who best understands working people. And although they paint a grim picture of the current economic situation, both ads end in upbeat fashion. "America is desperate for economic leadership, but we've come back before and we'll do it again," promises the announcer in "Spoke Out."