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How Clinton Can Right Her Ship

By Mark Davis

TO: Hillary Rodham Clinton

FROM: Mark Davis

RE: How to right the ship

Sen. Clinton:

You may be thinking that the last advice you need to consider is that of a conservative commentator who has opposed you for years.

But let's put it this way: The advice you have taken from people who supposedly support you is not exactly hitting home runs. Whoever wrote that dumb "change you can Xerox" line for you in the Austin debate last week should be freshening water glasses somewhere. Who doesn't know that canned nonsense like that gets you booed?

And we'd better not learn that someone in your close sphere of helpers released that photograph of Barack Obama dressed as a Somali elder. (Although I admit there is something delicious about your campaign, famous for scolding America for being too hopped up about Islamic extremism, having to admit that anything that illustrates Mr. Obama's Muslim-tinged history might scare the daylights out of people, even those as supposedly enlightened as Democrat voters.)

But to the task at hand: You are in trouble. Word is that morale in your camp is low and that while Obama backers are drooling at the prospect of taking you down next week in Texas and Ohio, your team is hanging its head and making plans for a summer free of obligation.

It doesn't have to be this way. Obama-mania is miles wide, but about an inch deep. You can fend off the campaign vultures with a few days of good, old-fashioned truth telling.

I realize this is not the historically natural campaign mode for you or your husband, but the truth that is sorely needed is not about you. It is about your opponent.

It isn't about his foreign roots or his penchant for borrowing from other people's speeches. It is about the very real question of whether he is ready to lead the free world.

People say the same thing about you, of course, but on a scale of real-world experience, Barack Obama makes you look like Margaret Thatcher. You need to start hammering home the risk of handing the keys to the Oval Office to a glib narcissist with a meager résumé.

If he suggests that your husband kicked off his peculiarly still-admired presidency with a pretty thin book of accomplishments, you might even channel Lloyd Bentsen: "I know Bill Clinton. I am married to Bill Clinton. Senator Obama, you are no Bill Clinton."

But since he is probably too smart to create such a self-made trap, you should give Texas and Ohio voters more of what you started to dish out last weekend: smart, even satiric, references to the flowery excess of his rhetoric.

Your razor-sharp parody - "The sky will open, the light will come down, celestial choirs will be singing" - has brought you bitter criticism from vast portions of the opinion culture that have been in the tank for Mr. Obama for months. That's the first sign that you did the right thing - it hit these people where they live.

The glazed Obama-bots know that if someone actually shines light through the parchment of their man's actual track record, he can be caught and even beaten. Now the question: Can you do it? Can you effectively get through to the remaining undecided voters to make clear that an Obama vote is a vote for game-show-host smoothness with very little substance behind it?

You have to win Texas and Ohio to grab not just delegates but headlines. That, in turn, will garner momentum and some of the magical winner's aura that wrapped around you after your New Hampshire comeback.

The name of the game now is to stay alive until Pennsylvania votes April 22. A big win there propels you into the five states on the May calendar, plus three more and Puerto Rico in June.

It doesn't have to end for you Tuesday. But the main focus must shift from reasons why you are ready for the White House to why he is not.

Mark Davis is a columnist for the Dallas Morning News. The Mark Davis Show is heard weekdays nationwide on the ABC Radio Network. His e-mail address is mdavis@wbap.com.

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