Former Sen. Lincoln Chafee sees an uphill battle for Sen Barack Obama, whom he supports, in the upcoming Pennsylvania primary. And he sites the thumping Obama took in his home state of Rhode Island as reason for his skepticism.
"Pennsylvania is going to be tough for the Obama campaign," warned the Republican turned independent. "They have to come up with a good crisp message for the voters there. The message here in Rhode Island resulted in a staggering defeat, almost twenty points [he lost by 18]. And I know my state pretty well. Obama carried the educated community but couldn't win the bellwether."
Chafee, who lost his re-election bid in 2006, announced his endorsement of Obama in mid-February 2007. The two senators served briefly on the Foreign Relations Committee, and Chafee cited Obama's judgment and ability "to bring people together" when offering his support. Now, however, the Rhode Islander says that Obama needs to bone up on the substance.
"I think the question here is still experience and you have got to hammer Sen. Hillary Clinton's failures on health care and the Iraq war vote and tie it to the economy," he said. "I went to his speech here in Rhode Island, and the people say, it sounds great, but how are you going to pay for it? He needs to get into those details."
To be sure, Chafee wasn't down on Obama's electoral stock. Just predicting a difficult road ahead -- or, perhaps, lowering the expectations -- in the Keystone State. Moreover, he saw opportunities for the Obama to make headway against his Clinton.
Asked if he agreed with former New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley's criticism that Clinton's unwillingness to release her tax returns, and her husband's refusal to make public the list of donors to his presidential library, would provide ample fodder for Republican opponents, Chafee declared: "Absolutely."
"For the Democratic Party you want these tough questions vetted in the primary," he said. "And it is another argument for Senator Obama to make. Pound on these points. If they don't get asked until the general and then that will stick with them and that's not good."
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