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Obama blasts "quasi-incumbent" Clinton

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The campaigns of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton traded barbs in dueling memos on Friday, in a sharp exchange prompted by Obama's decision to single out Clinton for the first time in his stump speech on Iraq. "Leading Democrats - including Senator Clinton - echoed the erroneous line that there was a connection between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda," Obama told a crowd in Des Moines, Iowa.

The Clinton Campaign chided Obama for "abandon[ing] the politics of hope in favor of attack politics" in a memo that tries to marginalize Obama's argument as the maneuver of a campaign in free-fall:

... Hillary -- for the first time -- outraised Senator Obama in both primary and overall contributions. She attracted 100,000 new donors in the third quarter -- more than Senator Obama -- and raised $8 million online. These trends reflect the fact that Hillary's message of experience and change is resonating with voters as the first primary contests grow closer.... Other campaigns are reacting. Senator Obama said yesterday his campaign will be entering a time of "sharp contrast" in an article headlined "Obama: Bye-Bye Mr. Nice Guy?"

Apparently Senator Obama's fall in the polls has led him to abandon his pledge to change our politics and bring people together.

The Obama Campaign replied with a memo assailing Clinton as a "quasi-incumbent" and criticizing her "changing positions" on torture, Iraq, social security and diplomacy. It also tried to significantly raise expectations for Clinton's campaign:

[...] Senator Clinton and her campaign have abandoned the politics of "let's have a conversation," in favor of purely tactical posturing... In the one state where the race is engaged, Iowa, the last four public polls show a race within the margin of error between Obama and Clinton, with Edwards in third. This is not because it's the one state in the union immune to Senator Clinton's appeal. It is because the voters are paying close attention, they know the most about Barack Obama and are responding to his message... Senator Clinton in all these states is the quasi-incumbent. In Iowa, where the race is most developed, over 70% of the electorate is not choosing her, producing a dangerously low ceiling.

And let's be clear: Hillary Clinton must win every contest. They forcefulness with which they embrace the aura of inevitability will make it shatter if she does not win in every single state. Inevitability does not come with state exceptions.

The strategy is to put Hillary's supposed strength on steriods. The Obama campaign is pushing reporters, (the main audience for these memos), to go beyond saying she's "inevitable" and to start saying she's unbeatable -- and thus has to "win every contest."

Team Clinton will keep pushing back by saying that all of Obama's arguments, from Iraq policy to campaign strategy, are merely driven by his position in the polls. Clinton's rivals may complain that she is poll-driven, but like any adept politician, she has already moved fast to wield that attack against others.