Who Is Still in the Presidential Battle? Republicans and Democrats are increasing their attacks across party lines — eight months before the general election. What can we learn from the changes in the battle ring?
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Who Is Still in the Presidential Battle?

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Who Is Still in the Presidential Battle?

Who Is Still in the Presidential Battle?

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

First, four days to go until Tuesday's primary contest in Ohio and Texas. And between Senators Obama and Clinton the chummy gestures of last week are so last week.

NPR News analyst and DAY TO DAY chum Juan Williams is back with us. Juan, hi.

JUAN WILLIAMS: Hi, Alex.

CHADWICK: So I know that you have heard this commercial because we played it and listened to it earlier, you and I did. But here, let's play it for our listeners now. This is a brand new commercial out from Senator Clinton today on the airwaves.

(Soundbite of ad)

Unidentified Male: Something's happening in the world. Your vote will decide who answers that call, whether it's someone who already knows the world's leaders, knows the military, someone tested and ready to lead in a dangerous world. It's 3:00 a.m. and your children are safe and asleep. Who do you want answering the phone?

Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York; Presidential Candidate): I'm Hillary Clinton and I approve this message.

CHADWICK: Well, I guess she did.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CHADWICK: What do you think?

WILLIAMS: Well, it's pretty strong and you got to believe that it is focus-group tested by Mark Penn, who is the head honcho at the Clinton campaign but also, you know, the head of an advertising agency in New York, the big one, Burson-Marsteller. So this is a pickup on something she said at the end of a debate in Cleveland on Tuesday night. But I think it's just so strong it reminds me of something you'd more likely to hear or watch during a general election. It takes you back to daisy chain, you know, ad run by President Johnson against Barry Goldwater and suggesting that he was not a rational, thoughtful person to be handling, you know, the ultimate power of a superpower.

And so the problem here is that it could be damaging to Obama if he is the nominee going forward and play into the hands of the Republicans, and to that extent you could say that Hillary Clinton is laying it all on the line, and you know, in a way that would indicate just how much is at stake on Tuesday. She's got to win Texas and Ohio or it could be the end game for her.

CHADWICK: She is running this ad in Texas, and indeed, Senator Obama does seem to think it could be damaging to him. Here he is, responding to it, speaking about this ad today already. Here he goes.

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois; Presidential Candidate): We have had a red phone moment, and it was the decision to invade Iraq. Senator Clinton gave the wrong answer. George Bush gave the wrong answer. John McCain gave the wrong answer.

CHADWICK: So the answer is Barack Obama's okay to be picking up that phone, though presumably the White House operator would actually be picking it up. But this line of attack, whether it's coming from Senator Clinton or not, you expect that Senator Obama is going to be hearing more of this in the coming months.

WILLIAMS: No doubt about it, Alex. If you look at the numbers, what it says is that even Barack Obama's most ardent supporters acknowledge that they have questions about his experience and specifically his experience with regard to foreign policy. So his opponents are going to try to exploit that weakness, going to magnify it, and you can bet that the Republicans are going to make a great deal of it if, again, if he is the nominee.

And you know, it plays on the whole theme that Republicans believe will be the narrative of the campaign, which is that they are stronger on national defense and that the war, in specific, the war in Iraq, will be the subject in which they argue they are going to hang tough and Barack - John McCain, I should say, early this week said if he doesn't persuade the American people that the surge and the war in Iraq is going better, then he will lose, lose, lose. He tried to take that back, but I think it betrayed a true feeling.

CHADWICK: Well, Senator Clinton's people have been saying we're going to get tough, we're going to go negative, we're going to get - I think you see it here.

WILLIAMS: Yeah, without a doubt. And they've got to go tough because unless she wins Ohio and Texas - forget the delegate counts - unless she breaks that Barack Obama winning streak - he's now at 11 - psychologically then everybody starts to flee the boat, and she's got to worry about the superdelegates, and it just becomes, I think, untenable for her to continue at that point.

CHADWICK: You wonder if Senator Obama hasn't already moved beyond that. I mean, he is commenting on this ad today, but more and more he seems to be focusing on Senator McCain - that's who he's talking about - and vice versa, I must say.

WILLIAMS: Yeah, I was going to say. And McCain seems to be focusing on him - you know, McCain this week coming out and saying that not only was Obama a really, you know, empty vessel talking about change but making it clear that he thinks Obama is naive in talking about meeting foreign leaders. And President Bush, by the way, joined in, Alex.

CHADWICK: Yeah. Juan Williams, NPR News analyst, a regular guest here on Fridays on DAY TO DAY. Juan, thank you so much again.

WILLIAMS: Hang in there, Alex. Good to talk with you.

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