Randy's Corner Deli Library

10 September 2008

Shaken Dems fear Obama on downslide

Shaken Dems fear Obama on downslide
Posted: 09/09/08 07:53 PM [ET]

Democrats in Congress are rattled over the momentum Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) has brought to John McCain’s presidential campaign and disagree about how their candidate should respond.

Some Democrats say that Democratic nominee Barack Obama’s campaign must take a tougher approach and challenge Palin directly on her lack of experience and stance on abortion, creationism and federal earmarks.

Other Democrats say they must tread carefully or risk alienating many voters who relate to Palin, a self-described hockey mom from a middle-class background, by appearing to bully her.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), a mother of three young children, has emerged as a spokeswoman for the campaign on media queries about Palin, making television appearances in recent days to support Obama’s campaign. She also participated in a conference call with reporters the day after Palin’s convention speech.

“Palin is bad for America on the issues,” she said, citing the Alaska governor’s opposition to abortion rights and legislation to ensure equal pay for women.

Wasserman Schultz said she has been on the campaign’s media surrogate team since June and has been asked to respond to media inquiries about Palin. But the Florida lawmaker said she has not been given an assignment as Palin’s official foil.

Palin was the talk of the Hill as lawmakers returning to Washington woke up Tuesday morning to headlines declaring that Sen. McCain (R-Ariz.), the GOP nominee, has pulled even with Sen. Obama (D-Ill.) in national polls. The jump is due to a 20-point swing among white women, who now favor the McCain-Palin ticket by 12 points, according to a Washington Post–ABC News poll.

“That’s all people have talked about since we got back,” said Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, a Democrat who represents Missouri, a projected battleground state. “I received a phone call from an Obama fundraiser who said we’re going to have to go back and revisit the strategy.”

Since Palin made her national political debut last week, Obama’s campaign and other Democrats have been slow to criticize Palin, preferring to let mainstream news outlets and liberal blogs raise questions about her record.

But Democrats are growing concerned that Obama’s campaign has not challenged Palin’s lack of experience and views on abortion, creationism and the Iraq war more aggressively.

“There’s anxiety developing because of a perceived lack of aggressiveness,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), an early Obama supporter. “There’s natural anxiety when one feels they’re behind.”

Democrats say that Obama’s campaign should get tougher on Palin and challenge her opposition to the right to abortion in cases of rape or incest, her support for teaching creationism in schools and her characterization of the Iraq war as a “task that is from God.”

Republicans have tried to paint critics of Palin as bullies. Last week, former Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.) accused The New York Times of “trying their best to drag her down.”

But some Democrats say that Obama’s campaign cannot let itself be cowed.

“They have to be careful of being defensive,” said Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.). “The best defense is a good offense. She’s probably the least qualified person ever to be picked for vice president.”

Rep. Diane Watson (D-Calif.) said Obama’s campaign should take a stronger approach on Palin but confine their challenge to criticism on the issues.

Democrats say they grew a little complacent over the summer, buoyed by Obama’s glowing media coverage and his lead in the polls.

That has changed since Palin’s emergence, which has energized the Republican base and McCain’s campaign.

“There is concern,” said Rep. Ed Pastor (D-Ariz.). “We were feeling a little laid-back, and now we’re saying, ‘Oh hell, this is slipping away, we’ve got to get to work.’ ”

Pastor said he expected his Democratic colleagues to become more involved in Obama’s campaign in coming weeks, predicting they would start contributing more from their own campaign accounts.

Obama campaign officials have taken a more sanguine view of McCain’s surge in the polls, questioning whether their opponent has really gained much ground in recent days.

Obama campaign manager David Plouffe simply called the recent Washington Post-ABC News poll “wrong.”

“We’re not concentrating on national polls because the American people aren’t. They’re worried about how they’re going to provide for their families and which candidate is going to deliver the change we need. That’s Barack Obama,” said Nick Shapiro, an Obama campaign spokesman.

The Obama campaign appears to have decided that one way to deal with the Palin political phenomenon is to use surrogates who may have similar appeal among white women.

McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds rebuffed Democratic criticism of Palin.

“The approval rating for the Democratic Congress is about 13 percent and Gov. Palin’s approval rating has been about 80 percent — maybe Democratic members of Congress should try doing the people’s work instead of Barack Obama’s,” he said.

Some Democrats are counseling patience. They say the best time to challenge Palin will come in the next few weeks.

“My sense is that the media, in asking questions of Gov. Palin, will find any soft spots and we’ll deal with that,” said Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.). “I think it’s always risky to attack others.”

Other Democrats say the focus should remain on McCain and characterizing his future administration as a continuation of the policies of President Bush. Lawmakers such as Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) say Palin is a “red herring” and talking about her would create a distraction from the core Democratic message.

But even Democrats who aren’t urging Obama to go on the offensive immediately say that with just over 50 days until the election, the time to act is fast approaching.

“I don’t think we can sit and wait for very long,” said Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.).

Manu Raju contributed to this article.

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