- The Washington Times - Friday, April 18, 2008

PHILADELPHIA — Front-runner status brings unexpected headaches, and Sen. Barack Obama continues to show he’s not immune.

Mr. Obama’s campaign yesterday was forced to reject an unsolicited endorsement by the Islamist terror group Hamas as the candidate worked to reassure leery Jewish voters, and his supporters derided Wednesday’s debate as unfair.

In Pennsylvania, Mr. Obama’s prodigious fundraising is allowing him to flood the airwaves with ads to cut away rival Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s lead here, but voters say they can’t click the remote control without seeing the Democratic aspirant’s face — and even supporters think it’s too much.

“Part of me says, yeah, I’m getting tired of that stuff because it’s been going on for so long but because we’re right up to the edge, I can handle it for the next couple of days,” said Jerry Bowers, an Obama volunteer from Mechanicsburg.

Lots of ads are “part of the process,” he added.

But a recent American Research Group (ARG) poll found 23 percent of likely voters in Pennsylvania”s primary Tuesday think the Obama ads — at least 14 different spots that have blanketed the airwaves from network news to MTV — are “excessive.” The ads promise change and outline his biography.

As for Hamas, the campaign for Mr. Obama, who frequently lambastes the Bush administration for its arrogance toward other nations, denounced the terror group critical of the White House”s “domination and arrogance.”

“Senator Obama has repeatedly rejected and denounced the actions of Hamas, a terrorist organization responsible for the deaths of many innocents, that is dedicated to Israel’s destruction,” Obama campaign spokesman Tommy Vietor said.

“As president, Obama will work with Israel to isolate terrorist groups like Hamas, target their resources, and support Israel’s right and capability to defend itself from any attack.”

Hamas’ top political adviser, Ahmed Yousef, embraced the Obama campaign Sunday in an interview on WABC radio, saying, “We like Mr. Obama. We hope he will [win] the election.”

He compared the Illinois senator to President John F. Kennedy, saying he was a “great man with great principle, and he has a vision to change America to make it in a position to lead the world community but not with domination and arrogance.”

The Obama campaign’s rejection of Hamas’ overture coincided with former President Jimmy Carter’s meeting yesterday with a Hamas delegation from the Gaza Strip in Cairo, a move criticized for lending legitimacy to a group that rejects all negotiations with Israel on principle and calls for the Jewish state’s destruction and the death of all Jews worldwide.

Mr. Obama joined the White House and Israel in opposing Mr. Carter’s outreach to Hamas.

“Hamas is not a state. Hamas is a terrorist organization,” Mr. Obama said Wednesday at a private meeting with Jewish voters in Philadelphia, in which he drew a distinction between meeting with terrorists and with leaders of rogue nations.

Democratic rival Mrs. Clinton of New York and presumptive Republican nominee Sen. John McCain of Arizona have said his pledge to meet with leaders of Iran, Cuba and other U.S. enemies show Mr. Obama’s naivete about international diplomacy and that the meetings would confer credibility to rogue leaders.

In Raleigh, N.C., Mr. Obama said moderators of the ABC News-sponsored debate focused on political trivia rather than real-life problems facing voters — a critique echoed in the media after Mr. Obama struggled in the debate with some of the sharpest questions to hit him so far.

He was battered by questions about his ties to a 1970s domestic terrorist, his racially divisive pastor and his electability, but called the grilling “the rollout of the Republican campaign against me in November.”

The same theme appeared in Mr. Obama’s campaign fundraising letter yesterday titled, “Gotcha” and asked for $25 donations.

Liberal activist group MoveOn.org, which has endorsed Mr. Obama, got in on the act by circulating a petition to protest ABC’s treatment of Mr. Obama.

“Debate moderators abuse the public trust every time they ask trivial questions about gaffes and ‘gotchas’ that only political insiders care about,” the petition says. “Enough with the distractions — ABC and other networks must focus on issues that affect people’s daily lives.”

The Republican National Committee (RNC) responded to Mr. Obama’s complaints about the debate by saying he “buckled” under pressure.

“Voters want a straight talking candidate on the issues; not a media critic on the stump,” said RNC spokesman Alex Conant. “Obama can”t simply ignore Americans” real concern about gun rights, small-town values, and his friendship with an unrepentant domestic terrorist. … If Obama”s buckling to 45 minutes of direct questions now, how would he ever handle the responsibilities of the White House?”

Mrs. Clinton held a substantial lead here when the Pennsylvania campaign began, and Mr. Obama is using the ads to introduce himself to voters. He has closed the gap with most polls in advance of the crucial primary showing he is within 5 or 6 points of the former first lady.

National Cable Communications estimates in Philadelphia alone Mr. Obama has more cable ad buys by a 2-to-1 margin.

“The Obama campaign is out-spending them tremendously,” said Tim Kay, the group’s director of political strategy.

Mrs. Clinton’s ads — the majority of which are negative — are reaching at most 15 networks while the Obama campaign’s ads are airing on three dozen cable channels, including Lifetime, the Food Network and ESPN.

“We’re being beaten over the head with these,” grumbled Mitchell Kaplan, a Democrat from a Pittsburgh suburb.

Mr. Kaplan, a staunch Clinton supporter, complained the Obama ads focus more on his personality than the issues.

“This hope, change, unity stuff gets old real fast,” he said.

But Sekela Coles, an Obama supporter from Upper Darby, said the rapid-fire ads are necessary.

“People need to know about him,” said Mrs. Coles, 30, who works at a nonprofit in Delaware County. “Information is not going to knock on your door and say, ‘Hi, I’m information and here’s his history.’ ”

Mr. Obama vastly outspent Mrs. Clinton in Texas and Ohio. She won convincingly in Ohio on March 4 and earned the popular vote advantage in Texas while Mr. Obama won the state’s caucus.

Mr. Kay noted that Mr. Obama was never likely to win in those states but his heavy ad purchases “made it more competitive.” He added that Mr. Obama has come from way behind in Pennsylvania as well.

“If political spending is spent right with the right message it is effective in swaying voters,” he said.

Democratic political strategist James Boyce disagreed.

“It’s an atrocious waste of money and it’s proven to be ineffective,” said Mr. Boyce, who was a senior adviser to Sen. John Kerry’s 2004 presidential bid.

He noted the Texas and Ohio results and argued that some campaign advisers don’t analyze spending after a loss because ad buying is a profitable business.

“No one gauges its effectiveness after the fact,” he said.

The ARG poll showed the 23 percent of voters who found Mr. Obama was saturating the airwaves say that’s why they are backing Mrs. Clinton. In Ohio, ARG polls showed 19 percent felt that way, causing the pollster to conclude: “Too much advertising can harm a campaign.”

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