Bruce Springsteen endorses Obama silencing Clinton – McCain alliance

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The 2008 presidential race has boiled down to a fight of two against one – John McCain and Hillary Clinton versus Barack Obama.

By Edward Luce in Washington DC

Mrs Clinton, who must win next week’s Pennsylvania primary by a large margin to give her a shot at the Democratic party nomination, and Mr McCain, who is the presumptive Republican nominee, are using virtually identical criticisms against Mr Obama and largely avoiding targeting each other.

Aides to Mr McCain admit they would prefer Mrs Clinton as an opponent in a general election, given her high negative ratings with voters, while Mrs Clinton is reaching for any weapon available to stave off her opponent’s widely predicted victory in the Democratic race.

Mrs Clinton last week even likened herself to Rocky, the Philadelphia boxer played by Sylvester Stallone (who has nevertheless endorsed Mr McCain). But unlike Stallone’s movie character, many Democrats believe Mrs Clinton is punching below the belt.

In late February Mrs Clinton suggested that both she and Mr McCain were fit to be commander-in-chief while Mr Obama could not be trusted to take a 3am phone call on national security issues – a line of attack picked up by Mr McCain.

In the past five days both have painted Mr Obama as a condescending “elitist” for having said that rural small town Americans cling to guns, God and distrust of outsiders to compensate for their economic despair.

“Senator Clinton has broken an unwritten rule of politics which is that you do not disadvantage a member of your own party and side with your opponents,” says Gary Hart, a former Democratic presidential candidate, who has endorsed Mr Obama. “What is deplorable about it is that Mrs Clinton is handing the Republicans ammunition that can be used against Obama in [November’s election].”

Obama sympathisers point to the Clinton camp’s apparent insinuations about their candidate’s religious heritage: Mr Obama is Christian but a large minority of Americans tell pollsters he is Muslim. In a 60 Minutes interview in March, Mrs Clinton said she did not believe Mr Obama was Muslim – “as far as I know”.

The Clinton camp has also cast doubt on Mr Obama’s feelings towards Israel, pointing to his friendship in Chicago in the 1990s with Palestinians and more recent statements about the suffering of Palestinians. Mr Obama acknowledged this problem yesterday in an interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, which also endorsed his candidacy. “There really has been a systematic effort to suggest I am not sufficiently pro- Israel,” he said. “The fact that my middle name is Hussein, I’m sure, does not help in that regard.”

But there are signs that Mrs Clinton’s tactics may also be causing self-inflicted damage. According to an ABC-Washington Post poll yesterday, only 39 per cent of Americans view Mrs Clinton as “trustworthy”, against 52 per cent in 2006 before the campaign began. Four in 10 Democrats agreed. And almost two-thirds of Democrats said Mr Obama was better placed than Mrs Clinton to win a general election.

Tad Devine, who was senior adviser to John Kerry in his 2004 campaign for the presidency, says that Mrs Clinton’s willingness to team up with Mr McCain may have harmed her among Democratic voters.

“One plus one equals zero if your ally is a Republican,” says Mr Devine. “Mrs Clinton may have damaged herself among Democrats more than she is damaging Mr Obama.”

Mr Devine, who is neutral in the Democratic race, adds that Mr Obama is better able to rebut charges of being a liberal elitist than either Mr Kerry or Al Gore, who ran for top office in 2000. Both men lost heavily among voters who hunt and go to church often. Mr Obama was brought up by a single mother who often used food stamps; Mr Gore’s father was a senator and Mr Kerry came from a wealthy background.

Mr Obama also has the backing of a few blue-collar icons. Yesterday the singer Bruce Springsteen defended the candidate’s comments about small town Americans. “They have been ripped out of the context and fabric of the man’s life and vision, in order to distract us from discussing the real issues,” he said in a statement. “Over here on E Street we’re proud to support Obama.”

The Financial Times

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