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A Tale of Clintonian Spin: Trying to Blow Past the Weathermen Question

All campaigns spin. All candidates spin. But there is something about Clintonian spin that is...well, spinnier than conventional spin.

Here's an example. Last Thursday, following the mis-moderated Clinton-Obama debate of the previous evening, the Hillary Clinton campaign decided to follow up by blasting Barack Obama on two issues that had been tossed at him the previous evening: his past support of a handgun ban and his connection to William Ayers, a former Weather Underground radical who has become a distinguished professor and education expert. During a conference call that morning, Howard Wolfson and Phil Singer, two senior Clinton aides, hammered Obama for having held a fundraiser in 1995, during his first campaign for state senator, in Ayers' apartment. At the time, Ayers, who has admitted taking part in bombings during the 1970s (which never caused any loss of life) and who was never arrested for any of his radical actions, lived near Obama, and the two served on the board of a nonprofit that provided grants to groups working on poverty issues. Obama, Wolfson insisted, had "to be more forthcoming" about Ayers.

During that conference call, I asked Wolfson whether Senator Clinton supported the pardon Bill Clinton issued in 2001 to two Weather Underground radicals: Linda Evans, who was sentenced to prison for participating in a series of bombings in the 1980s, and Susan Rosenberg, who was charged with being part of a bank robbery that left a guard and two police officers dead. Whether or not the Ayers matter was a non-issue, if Hillary Clinton's aides were going to bash Obama for having once had a connection to a former radical who had never been arrested, it seemed fair to wonder if she had opposed her husband's pardons of two radicals who had served time for their crimes.

Wolfson did not answer the question. Instead, he noted that the pardoned Weather Underground radicals had never held a fundraiser for Hillary Clinton. I pointed out that was not the issue--and again asked if Senator Clinton supported or opposed those two pardons. "I don't know what she said," Wolfson replied. And in front of the dozens of reporters on the call, Wolfson promised he would get back to me.

Once the call was done, I emailed Wolfson a reminder that he had promised he would provide an answer to that question. Within minutes, he responded, "It was a fair question and I know this issue does inspire a fair amount of passion." There was no answer in this email.

I waited patiently for a day and then shot Wolfson another note: "Any answer to my question from yesterday?" He replied, "turns out i actually answered this in '01." And he sent me an excerpt from a news story at the time of the pardons:

"She thinks that it was a pardon made by the president," said spokesman Howard Wolfson. Wolfson provided the same response to questions about her view of the pardon of former Weather Underground radical Susan Rosenberg, serving a 58-year weapons-possession sentence and long suspected by law-enforcement officials of involvement in the 1981 Brink's truck robbery in which two New York police officers were killed. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has criticized that pardon.​

Consider Wolfson's reply: She thinks it was a pardon made by the president. It's close to a non sequitur. Imagine if you asked Hillary Clinton what she thought of her husband's affair with an intern, and her spokesperson said, "She thinks that it was an affair."

Did Wolfson believe he could get away with pretending this was actually responsive to the question of whether Clinton supported or opposed those two pardons? Meanwhile, other reporters--and Obama aides--were asking me if Wolfson had yet provided an answer.

In an email to Wolfson, I noted that the quote he had sent did not answer the question. "The question is," I wrote, "does she believe the pardons were appropriate? And at the time, did she support or oppose them?" In return, there was silence. I waited a bit and sent another email: "Am I going to get a reply to my last note?" Nothing came.

On Monday morning, during a Clinton campaign conference call, I asked Wolfson once more if Clinton supported or opposed the pardons. He remarked that he had sent me that clip. I pointed out that it had said nothing. He then commented, "I'm not aware she had an opinion" at the time the pardons were granted. He next insisted that my question had only applied to that time frame. It certainly had not. In the first call, I had asked "whether she thought [the pardons] were appropriate" and "what she thinks of" the pardons. (Note the verb tenses.) I also had asked whether she would "do anything like that herself." But now I said I would amend the question to cover then, now, and any time in between. He replied, "I don't have any more for you than what I've given you." That is, more nothing.

Clinton's pardons for these two radicals--like Ayers' relation to Obama--is no big issue. But Wolfson had promised an answer. Instead, he sidestepped and then ducked. Wolfson makes about $450,000 a year working for the Clinton campaign. I suppose evading questions is part of the job. But absurd spin? She thinks the pardon is a pardon. Mischaracterizing questions to avoid answering them? If this is how Wolfson handles this not-so-tough question, what would he do as White House press secretary?



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Results in Pennsylvania

Sullivan's take:

Right now, the actual results suggest what I thought would be the worst possible result for the Democrats: a nine point win for Clinton. It doesn't change the race's dynamic or the math; but it will give Clinton just the tiniest sliver of an argument that she should not drop out. But what is striking in the exit polls is the polarization on three lines: gender, race and age. It was dead even with men; but a massive advantage for Clinton among women. The racial difference is obvious as well. But what really leaps out is age. Obama lost every cohort over 40; Clinton lost every cohort under 40. Race also affects the generations in turn: 67 percent of whites over 60 voted for Clinton - a massive 24 point advantage. Among the younger generation, there is much less racial polarization: under 30, whites split evenly. This is a fascinating result. It appears to me as the future struggling to overcome the past. On the process, I stick to my view that she needed double digits to have reason to stay in. Right now, she doesn't have it. But she won't leave. She will never leave. Ceding to someone younger is unthinkable to her. It's a form of death for her.

But here's what she does have: total shamelessness, and an absolute belief that she is the rightful nominee. Shamelessness: the appropriation of the message and even the words of her opponent; the portrayal of one of the most privileged and advantaged candidates in memory as an insurgent underdog; the eager embrace of the tactics - and message! - of the Rove right if it could help in any way; the picture of a candidate who saw a 20 - 25 point lead dissipate into single figures as a candidate for momentum. What sustains her is this deep, deep sense of entitlement and an absolute refusal to let the next generation take over. She will take this to the last day of the convention if necessary.

If Obama thinks he has a right to actually be nominated by the Clinton Democrats because he has won more votes, more states and more delegates, he is sadly mistaken. They will never let such a person win without a death struggle. And that is where the Democrats are now headed.​

Obama's spin:

Significant improvements over Ohio, especially among white men and seniors overall.

With voters over 60 in OH, Clinton won 69%, Obama got 28%. In PA, Obama earned 41% of the vote among voters over 60, and Clinton won 59%. The gap among seniors was cut by more than half, from 41 to 19.

Among white men, in Ohio, Obama got 39%, in PA, 46%. Clinton was at 58% in OH and dropped to 53% in PA. The gap narrowed from 19% to 7%.​


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The whole thing makes me sick. The more she struggles the more I want her out. Anyone who wants power that badly deserves to have it taken away.


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atbell said:
The whole thing makes me sick. The more she struggles the more I want her out. Anyone who wants power that badly deserves to have it taken away.

The whole system is flawed and this is just exposing more of them. Obama leads on the popular vote, delegate count and states won yet the Hillary supporters keep claiming she's more electable because she's won the "battleground" and "swing" states.

Ok, so if the whole thing was going to be an arbitrary contest on paper based on feelings guesses and insight into who would be the better candidate vs. the Republican nominee, why the hell spend the time, effort and money capmpaigning?! It's an insult to the voters since they are going about this thinking they have some say in the matter. Hopefully that still holds true and the winner ends up being the statistical winner, not the academic or chosen winner.

[/obvious rant]


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Not to mention that Obama won battleground states: Missouri, Iowa and others.

There are 10-12 battleground states, not just the three that Clinton likes to mention because she happened to win those ones.
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^^ Ya I'm not so sure about that. There's the argument that more time in the Senate exposes a candidate to more "gotcha politics", ie "Kerrey was for the war before he was against it" so that maybe 4-8 years from now Obama would have more contradictions in his voting record for the Republicans to smear him with.

I really do think it was the right cycle - especially if the Dems win the Presidency. If they won while Obama sat out, he wouldn't be running most likely until 2016, after the Dem presidential guy/gal finished their 2nd term.

It would maybe make more sense for him to wait if the Republicans win the Presidency, cause then he'd be looking at 2012, but with the issues they're saddled with and the weak field for them, it wasn't all that likely to happen looking out from last year. With McCain they arguably have a better shot, but I still don't think he'll make it...


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Boss Hog said:
I have this weird feeling that despite the hype and hope, McCain will somehow win.

old school white boy

Well considering the two democrats are destroying eachother and dividing their own party I would say there is a VERY good chance of him winning.
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Boss Hog

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I think "destroying their party" is a bit of a harsh assessment. That's the media trying to sensationalize. It's exciting that they've had two powerful candidates for once, and the hype between them has attracted a lot of apathetic people to politics and made it a bit more interesting. Such a prolongued focus on the Democrats has made them more popular in the eyes of the gp.

But yeah in the long run that could create problems if the dirty fighting worsens, which it will if this drags out. But it doesn't seem like a very big problem to this point. Interesting and exciting, if anything.
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all over but the cryin' for the clinton campaign? numbers still coming in for indiana but the math is against her overall and north carolina wasn't even close for her. should be an interesting few weeks ahead.