04/11/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Clinton's New Ad Is Plea for Relevance

While many Democrats openly questions whether Clinton has any path to reach the nomination, her campaign has already moved on the primary and is setting up attacks on John McCain. It released today what is the first contrast ad of the 2008 general election! Few would have expected the first shot to come from Hillary, and that element of surprise is clearly something the campaign wanted to play with.

The ad, which you can view here, is a sequel of the 3am ad question used against Obama in the run-up to the Texas and Ohio primaries. This one uses the same pictures but suddenly explains, "this time the crisis is economic" before directly criticizing McCain (the first version of the 3am ad did not mention Obama by name). Here is the beginning of the script:

It's 3 am, and your children are safe and asleep.

But there's a phone ringing in the White House and this time the crisis is economic.

Home foreclosures mounting, markets teetering.

John McCain just said the government shouldn't take any real action on the housing crisis, he'd let the phone keep ringing.

The McCain campaign wasted little time replying, not only with a particularly cruel push-back ("With an ad like that, it's more likely that the call at 3:00 am is, "Senator, you've just lost another superdelegate," said an aide) but also by releasing their very own web ad which they might actually broadcast depending on how widely Clinton's media buy is. McCain's ad takes the very same images Clinton used and replaces the part that attacked him with a script attacking the two Democrats for wanting to respond to the economic crisis by... raising taxes (old attacks never die).

Clinton's rationale for preparing an anti-McCain ad when she barely has enough money contesting against Obama can seem puzzling, but there a number of very clear reasons justifying this move. Clinton wants to stay relevant. With Obama and McCain getting in increasingly routine exchanges, Clinton must be fearing growing at best invisible, at worst a nuisance, as Democrats will want to move on to attacking the Republican nominee.

The ad's primary audience are superdelegates. It's unlikely Clinton will spend that much money airing this spot, but she is relying on earned media to make sure all uncommitted superdelegates hear about it. With this, Clinton is insisting on a few messages:

(1) She is claiming through this ad that not only will she not prove a distraction to the general election campaign, but she will air an attack ad against McCain before the Obama campaign.

(2) Relatedly, Clinton is trying to put to rest criticism that she is putting herself before her party and that she is giving McCain ammunition to use against Obama in the general election. Many people criticized her for this when the original 3am ad was aired, and Clinton wants to take her part in McCain bashing to prove to superdelegates that she does not intend to help McCain win in November.

(3) Clinton wants to show that she is comfortable attacking McCain on economic issues. Democrats are likely to draw on the current economic crisis as much as possible in the coming months, as elections that play out on the socio-economic terrain tend to favor Democrats much more than those that are debated on national security topics. And Clinton considers the economy to be her forte, and she is telling superdelegates that she will be more capable than Obama to exploit what is widely viewed as the area McCain knows the least about.