- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 26, 2008

WASHINGTON Was that a white flag waving over Texas? Democrats who think Hillary Rodham Clinton needs to do something dramatic like going negative to save her presidential candidacy might wonder about her mostly positive, always cautious debate performance Thursday night.

The New York senator is not one to surrender easily and nobody should count her out prematurely, but Clinton’s kid-gloves approach with Barack Obama raises questions about her strategy headed into two must-win primaries March 4.

Can she stop Obama without attacking him? Can she attack him without turning off voters? Is her only hope that Obama makes a mistake on his own? And, finally, has she decided that if she must lose, she’s going to be a good loser? This we know: Clinton ducked several chances to criticize Obama and repeatedly went out of her way to stress similarities in her next-to-last chance to corner the front-runner in a debate before Ohio and Texas vote. It took 60 minutes and the prodding of a moderator for Clinton to repeat the charge that Obama is guilty of plagiarism. Borrowing rhetoric from supporter and friend Deval Patrick, the governor of Massachusetts, “is not change you can believe in,” Clinton said. “It’s change you can Xerox.” The line drew groans and boos from the debate audience. Even if the shot played better with voters watching on television, it was hardly the body blow that Clinton needs to reverse Obama’s momentum and close his lead in the delegate chase. Obama has won 11 consecutive contests and could cripple her candidacy with another victory or two on March 4. Clinton set the tone from the start with a stale opening statement that promised voters “a lifetime of experience and proven results.” Her fate largely out of her control, she conceded, “It’s now up to the people of Texas and Ohio and the other states ahead.” Obama seized the olive branch. “We’ve been friends before this campaign started,” he said, “and we’ll be friends afterward.” Clinton nodded her head. They bantered about slight differences on Cuba and health care but otherwise agreed not to disagree on much often while Clinton graced Obama with an adoring first lady’s gaze. She: “I would agree with a lot of what Senator Obama just said” on the economy. He: “This is an area where Senator Clinton and I almost entirely agree.” She: “… when both of us voted for this” immigration bill. He: “I don’t want to denigrate (her) record.” Clinton was asked twice about her claim to be ready for the Oval Office on Day One, and both times didn’t take the chance as she has before to suggest that Obama is too raw or naive for the job. A moderator practically begged her to accuse Obama of being “all hat and no cattle” a Texas term for a poser but Clinton ignored the prodding. “I have said that about President Bush and I think our next president has to be a lot less hat and lot more cattle,” she said. The pity is that Clinton showed again that she is cool under pressure, steeped in the details of policy and energized about the prospect of putting her ideas into place. While Obama’s reply to a question about fixing the economy was longwinded and had all the verve of a laundry list, Clinton talked policy in sharp bullet points and wouldn’t let a moderator interrupt her without finishing a thought about the “innovation nation.” Obama stared at his notes while Clinton stated the obvious: “I think you can tell from the first 45 minutes (that) Senator Obama and I have a lot in common.” “But there are differences between us,” she continued. Clinton noted that an Obama supporter recently embarrassed himself and his candidate by conducting a television interview in which he could not name a single accomplishment of Obama’s. “I do think that words are important and words matter, but actions speak louder than words,” Clinton said. Clinton is right, but many of her supporters including some inside her own campaign wanted tough talk out of her Thursday night. Instead, they heard a kind word for Obama and a melancholy closing note for the debate, if not her campaign. “No matter what happens in this contest, I am honored I am honored to be here with Barack Obama. I am absolutely honored,” she said. “Whatever happens, we’re going to be fine.” ___ EDITOR’S NOTE: Ron Fournier has covered politics for The Associated Press for nearly 20 years. On Deadline is an occasional column.


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