First, the official Clinton campaign Bitter-gate attack ad, set to run in Pennsylvania all this week:
Here’s my view on these kinds of attack ads: Either do real interviews with real people, or do scripted lines with actors. Mixing scripted lines with real people almost always falls flat.
In any case, it’s clear the Clinton campaign is overplaying its hand here. Though at this stage of the game (this stage being about a half hour after the end of the game), do they have much choice? They needed a game-changer, and it looks like a poorly-worded offhand remark by Obama is as good as its going to get for them between now and next Tuesday. When you’re losing with voters on the issues, your best shot– according to the Clinton-Rove handbook– is to turn the campaign into a referendum on non-issues.
Unfortunately for Clinton, this Obama-is-out-of-touch line of attack may be whipping up a frenzy among the pundits and the chattering class, but it doesn’t seem to be catching on among actual voters. A quick survey of local Pennsylvania newspaper coverage of Bitter-gate shows either a lot of shrugs or outright tumbleweeds. The paper in Scranton– the sixth largest city in Pennsylvania and the home of a certain Dunder Mifflin branch– endorsed Obama Sunday.
Earlier today, Hillary Clinton– appearing at an event after Barack Obama had already spoken– got heckled by a crowd of Pittsburgh steelworkers when she tried to push the apparently not-so-hot button issue:
“I understand my opponent came this morning and he spent a lot of his time attacking me,” she said, before being interrupted with several seconds of murmurs and groans from the crowd. “Well, you know, I know that many of you, like me were disappointed by recent remarks that he made.”
More groans and at least one “No” from the crowd.
“And I think it’s important that, you know, we give people the chance to really compare and contrast us,” Clinton continued. “You know, I am well aware that at a fundraiser in San Francisco, he said some things that many people in Pennsylvania and beyond Pennsylvania have found offensive.”
A few more “No”s.
And finally ABC News caught Bill Clinton reaching a bit too far in trying to make his case for voter outrage:
Over seven stops in North Carolina, Clinton said “Everywhere I go there are all these people with signs, saying I’m not bitter – I’m not bitter.”
Clinton said during a stop in Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania “this fellow said to me… “President Clinton, we are not bitter, we just want to turn the country around.” Clinton said another supporter in North Carolina said “I hunt ’cause I like to and I go church ’cause I need to. And if I were a millionaire, I would still hunt and go to church.’ He said what we need is to get this country together, get it on the road and go forward. So that is what this election is about. And we all gotta go forward together. We all have to go forward together.”
The strong sentiments were appreciated by the crowd, but were not entirely accurate. During Clinton’s seven stops in North Carolina on Saturday there were no “I’m not bitter” signs. There was a small assortment of people at his later events wearing stickers with the slogan, but many of those sporting the stickers weren’t even sure what they meant. Clinton also was a bit confused about his encounter in Pennsylvania. The conversation actually took place at an earlier event in Bloomsburg, PA – or so Clinton told the crowd in Bloomsburg.
Anybody who believes those were real conversations Clinton had with voters must not understand what the definition of is is.
At any rate, polls this close to the primary are typically meaningless, so there’s no way to know for sure whether Pennsylvania voters are buying the latest shiny bauble being peddled by the Clintons or whether they’re tired of playing the Washington games that seem to have one winner and millions of losers. But judging from the fact that “I’m not bitter” stickers seem to be selling like Crystal Pepsi, it looks like small town voters aren’t nearly as dumb as the Clintons think.