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Clinton's Conundrum

Steven Stark has a couple of suggestions for Hillary's campaign team:

First, she needs to put a bit of distance between herself and Bill. It's understandable that the former president wants to help his wife (and she can use the help) but his presence on the trail is threatening to overshadow and even undercut her. There's no need to take him off the campaign trail but, since borrowing lines from JFK seems to be the flavor of the month, she could do the same by reworking some lines from his famous Houston Minister's speech in September 1960.


Second, she needs to reframe the question of old politics vs. new politics. She shouldn't go on the attack but if her principal opponent wants to point out differences, she can certainly respond to those, with a smile, by saying something like:

"I know the difference between the old politics and the new politics and so do the voters. Is it old politics or new politics to make a major issue out of a key vote on Iran -- when the candidate in question couldn't even be bothered to come to Washington to cast a vote on the issue and take a real stand because he was too busy campaigning? Is it old politics or new politics to promise you're going to walk into the White House, snap your fingers, and instantly transform the health care system because all that lack of experience really means is that you're not tied to the mistakes of the past?

"We all know that labels are easy; decisions are hard; achieving real results even harder. I'll make the tough decisions and I'll lead. I'll leave it to others to categorize what kind of politics that is."

If Clinton starts to respond directly, she'll rejoin the campaign, so to speak. But not until then.

I think this is pretty sound advice, however Clinton has a couple of problems that make both of these suggestions less plausible: 1. She has rather high negatives, and 2. Her husband is more popular than she is. Much more.

Her husband's experience and charisma may be the biggest asset Clinton possesses, and to declare such distinctions from him could prove risky. Some Democrats may in fact be yearning for the good old days.

As for directly responding to her opponents, this could place Hillary in another tough spot. Most female candidates for elected office walk a fine line. If they accuse their critics of a "pile on," they risk accusations of victimhood. However, if she comes across as too negative or assertive, she'll be called shill and probably much worse.

Perhaps it's the other Clinton who needs to stay on message better. It may sound harsh, but the less Hillary speaks the better off she may be. When Bill Clinton went on the offensive against Tim Russert it changed the debate. It went from being Hillary versus the MSM to the Clintons versus the MSM. The former you can work with, because it offers Hillary an opportunity to confront the media's "good ol' boys" club. The latter reminds us of the worst things about the Clinton White House--scandals, personal attacks and defensive personal politics.

Bill is not like the other spouses, and cannot go negative like Michelle Obama or Elizabeth Edwards. The Clintons perhaps need a role reversal--let Hillary play up the good old days, and have Bill play up Hillary. Going too negative might not be a luxury the Clintons currently have.

If Senator Obama asks us to turn the page, Hillary can remind America of how good the book was the first time. Bill's role shouldn't be diminished, but instead altered. He may indeed be the better messenger if Americans are to like Hillary Clinton, so have him sell Americans on her record and experience.

Allow Bill to respond on his wife's behalf, and as Steven argues, keep the senator smiling.

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