- The Washington Times - Friday, December 28, 2007

Rudolph W. Giuliani and Sen. John McCain stand to gain the most politically from the assassination of Benazir Bhutto just days before the crucial Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses, political observers said yesterday.

“On the Republican side, this could have serious implications for Giulilani or McCain, particularly as they duke it out in Iowa for third place,” pollster John Zogby said. “This may be one of the most important third-place showings in Iowa history, and the stakes are high for both candidates.”

For Democrats, most observers agreed that the timing of the former Pakistani prime minister’s assassination plays to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s experience as the wife of a two-term president.

“On the Democratic side, will liberal caucus voters decide to accent Clinton’s leadership and experience or Barack Obama’s identity?” Mr. Zogby asked. “My gut instinct tells me that Clinton is helped by this, especially with her husband by her side.”

Mrs. Bhutto’s assassination also could help lagging candidates, such as Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat, get a second look from voters.

“The top-tier Democrats have played out their foreign policy expertise. They’ve said all they can say,” said Jeff Coleman, a Pennsylvania-based political consultant. “It’s Biden that’s best positioned on the kind of crisis scenario that’s developed in Pakistan. He’s been waving his hands from the back of the room saying that his party had better pay attention to places like Pakistan.”

As if they already had won their party’s nomination and the presidency, some candidates — including former Sen. John Edwards, North Carolina Democrat, called Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf with their condolences.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat who served as U.N. ambassador under President Clinton, scheduled speeches in Iowa today and tomorrow on “The Current Crisis in Pakistan and the Global War on Terrorism.”

Former Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee, who is lagging in virtually every poll of Republican voters, worked the Bhutto killing into his speeches yesterday in Iowa.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, whose campaign has been losing stride in Iowa and New Hampshire, issued a brief statement about the importance of Pakistan in the global war on terrorism.

Pakistan has long been a key part in the war against extremism and radical jihadists. For those who think Iraq is the sole front in the war on terror, one must look no further than what has happened today,” Mr. Romney said.

Mrs. Clinton, in a statement released by her Senate office, expressed her condolences in a way that let voters know she knew Mrs. Bhutto personally — and by implication was ready to serve as president.

“I am profoundly saddened and outraged by the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, a leader of tremendous political and personal courage,” the New York senator said. “I came to know Mrs. Bhutto over many years, during her tenures as prime minister and during her years in exile.”

Mr. Giuliani, the former New York mayor who led the city after the September 11 attacks, cast himself as the strongman and stressed yesterday that terrorism is a threat to freedom everywhere.

Meanwhile, Mr. McCain stressed his years of experience on foreign policy issues.

“My theme has been throughout this campaign that I’m the one with the experience, the knowledge and the judgment. So perhaps it may serve to enhance those credentials to make people understand that I’ve been to Pakistan, I know Musharraf, I can pick up the phone and call him. I knew Benazir Bhutto.”

One possible pitfall for all the candidates is sounding as if they are trying to exploit Mrs. Bhutto’s assassination for political gain.

“The problem with angling for some kind of a ‘Bhutto bump’ is that it looks gratuitous and draws attention to the fact that they’ve never really had to deal with a crisis of this complexity,” Mr. Coleman said.

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