GOP recycles Clinton’s attacks against Obama

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Voters thinking the Republican lines of attack against Sen. Barack Obama sound familiar aren’t experiencing deja vu - Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton previewed several of them during the primary campaign.

Democrats warned that the prolonged Obama-Clinton battle could give Republicans ammunition, and they have been proved right as Mrs. Clinton’s harsher words resurface in campaign missives from Sen. John McCain and national, state and local Republicans.

He is naive and inexperienced on foreign policy, Mrs. Clinton suggested for months. Republicans have echoed the attacks.

Democrats now want to move past the nasty fight and Clinton backers are standing by Mr. Obama’s side, but Republicans aren’t eager to let the opposing party forget its warring.

See related blogs:Bellantoni on Democrats, Dinan on the Republicans, POTUS Notes

See related stories:Jennifer Harper/Anti-Obama pin jabs Texas GOP, S.A. Miller/Obama picks Clinton ex-officials as advisers and Andrea Billups/Michelle reveals softer side on ‘The View’.

“We could point to many, many examples during the debates where the words ‘irresponsible’ and ‘naive’ were applied to Senator Obama, but not by a Republican, but by Hillary Clinton. She’ll probably be in a different position now, but these are issues that Hillary Clinton very dramatically pointed out during the Democratic primary,” former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani told reporters Wednesday. The former Republican presidential candidate was using Mrs. Clinton’s line to go after Mr. Obama after the Democrat’s formation of a national security “working group” to advise him on the issue.

In a press conference this week, Mr. McCain of Arizona employed another familiar line against Mr. Obama - evoking his rival’s remarks this spring that some rural voters are “bitter” and “cling” to religion and guns. Mrs. Clinton labeled the comments “elitist,” and repeatedly went after Mr. Obama as having insulted voters.

“I won’t tell [the American people] that in small towns across America and Pennsylvania that they are bitter or angry about their economic conditions,” he said, adding that he knows why gun enthusiasts “embrace their constitutional rights … [and churchgoers] embrace their religion because they’re fundamentally good and decent people.”

The McCain slam could have been culled from Mrs. Clinton’s own attack in April when the “bitter” comments were first reported and she said it seemed Mr. Obama was blaming rural voters for opposing him.

“He said that they cling to religion and guns and dislike people who are different from them. I don’t believe that,” she said. “I believe that people don’t cling to religion; they value their faith. You don’t cling to guns; you enjoy hunting or collecting or sport shooting. I don’t think he really gets it that people are looking for a president who stands up for you and not looks down on you.”

This week, the Republicans are portraying Mr. Obama as a hypocrite for criticizing the 2005 energy bill even though he voted for it - another Clinton argument.

It doesn’t end there - on the economy, trade issues and even Mr. Obama’s oratorical ability, the Republicans seem to be adopting much of the Clinton attack playbook - which she retired after it became clear this spring that she had lost the nomination to the political newcomer.

The former first lady’s most infamous line about years of experience - during which she questioned whether he had passed the “commander-in-chief” test - has made a cameo in Republican attack ads.

“Senator McCain will bring a lifetime of experience to the campaign, I will bring a lifetime of experience and Senator Obama will bring a speech that he gave in 2002,” Mrs. Clinton said in March, referring to Mr. Obama’s speech opposing the Iraq war.

She added, “I think it’s imperative that each of us be able to demonstrate we can cross the commander-in-chief threshold. And, I believe that I have done that, certainly Senator McCain has done that, and you will have to ask Senator Obama with respect to his candidacy.”

Those comments were pulled together in a Republican National Committee ad questioning Mr. Obama’s experience, and appear on an RNC Web site- ClintonVsObama, www.gop.com/clintonvsobama/.

Now, the candidates have come together, and Mrs. Clinton will extend her enthusiastic endorsement further next Thursday as she introduces her former opponent to her top fundraisers in the District. A source familiar with the event’s planning said the candidates also are looking for a date for a public appearance with the two Democrats together.

Back when they were political rivals Mr. Obama predicted that Mrs. Clinton’s words would resurface.

“I’m sure that Senator Clinton feels like she’s doing me a great favor, because she’s been deploying most of the arguments that the Republican Party will be using against me in November, so it’s toughening me up,” Mr. Obama said at the Associated Press annual luncheon in April.

Indeed, it was Mrs. Clinton who first riffed on Mr. Obama’s “hopeful” message, and talked about the “audacity” of the senator from Illinois in a reference to his book title, and now the RNC and Mr. McCain’s team offer a snarky “Audacity Watch” in e-mails to reporters. Mr. McCain also has lambasted Mr. Obama’s “Change You Can Believe In” slogan, similar to Mrs. Clinton’s label “Change You Can Xerox” back in February.

Mrs. Clinton hit Mr. Obama in a February debate that he hadn’t held a hearing in his Foreign Relations subcommittee about Afghanistan. Republicans have adopted the line as well. Voters can expect the Republicans to needle Mr. Obama on his “present” votes in the Illinois state senate, something Mrs. Clinton often mentioned.

Mr. Obama on Wednesday gathered his new national security team, which now includes former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright and retired Gen. Wesley Clark, who each previously backed Mrs. Clinton.

He told reporters that their positions were similar and that’s why “it’s so easy for … senior advisers of Senator Clinton to support my candidacy.”

Ms. Albright was not so kind last year when the Democrats sparred over whether to meet with leaders of rogue nations. She said in July that Mrs. Clinton’s refusal to meet with the leaders without preconditions was a perfect answer while Mr. Obama’s idea lacked “diplomatic spadework.”

That argument between the Democrats - one of their main differences - morphed into the first real fight between Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain.

Republicans are using words of former Clinton supporters who have said anything remotely negative about the presumed Democratic nominee against him, such as when Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland once compared Mr. Obama’s run for the presidency to choosing the “next American Idol.”

Other Clinton greatest hits the Republicans may be using this fall:

From a February speech in the Washington: “The American people don’t have to guess whether I understand the issues or whether I would need a foreign policy instruction manual to guide me through a crisis, or whether I’d have to rely on advisers to introduce me to global affairs.”

In late February in Ohio: “We need a president who also realizes that we have real enemies. I know it’s true, because I went to ground zero the day after 9/11. We need a president who knows what it takes to protect and defend the United States.”

In December, Mrs. Clinton said she is “ready on Day One” while voters risk “put[ting] America in the hands of someone with little national or international experience, who started running for president the day he arrived in the U.S. Senate.”

Clinton aides and the RNC most of the year were on the same page, e-mailing reporters negative articles about Mr. Obama - and in particular his ties to indicted real estate developer Tony Rezko - within moments of each other.

“I never thought I’d compliment Clinton, but she actually made some solid points in the primary about Obama’s weak judgment,” said RNC spokesman Alex Conant.

About the Author

Christina Bellantoni

Christina Bellantoni is a White House correspondent for The Washington Times in Washington, D.C., a post she took after covering the 2008 Democratic presidential campaigns. She has been with The Times since 2003, covering state and Congressional politics before moving to national political beat for the 2008 campaign. Bellantoni, a San Jose native, graduated from UC Berkeley with ...

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