Over at The Trail last night, Anne Kornblut had an interesting post about possible fallout from Hillary's attacks on Obama. Kornblut writes:

Clinton, after months of being targeted by her chief rivals, decided to respond with a forceful challenge to Obama's character and a charge that he is much more ambitious than he has let on. Her campaign advisers said she strongly believes that she must not let attacks go unresponded to--even if it means appearing to go somewhat negative herself. They pointed to the success former Vice President Al Gore had in Iowa in 2000 after drawing distinctions between himself and former Sen. Bill Bradley.

The problem, I think, isn't so much that Clinton responded, but that she responded by leveling the same charge against Obama that he'd leveled at her. (Obama had said: "I have not been planning to run for president for however number of years some of the other candidates have been planning for." The Clinton team hit back with documentary evidence suggesting he'd been planning to run for president since kindergarten, or at least since he entered the Senate.) I have no idea why you'd do that. The reason Obama's jab drew blood, to the extent it did, is that it played into existing skepticism of Hillary. But there wasn't a similar narrative surrounding Obama, which made the attack sound both negative and out-of-left-field. It's the indiscriminate part of Hillary's counter-offensive that back-fired, not the response per se. 

Now take Gore and Bradley. If I remember correctly, Gore's big rallying cry was "stay and fight"--the point being that Bradley had retired from the Senate when it became unpleasant to be there thanks to Republican control of the chamber. Again, that's something that rang true in light of Bradley's biography, not to mention the foibles that had been aired in the press. It's not like Gore, after being challenged by Bradley over certain fundraising practices, suddenly turned around and shined a light on Bradley's own fundraising habits.

If you're Clinton, you've got to take the openings the campaign's already given you--questions about Obama's experience, depth of interest in policy, ability to deliver, etc. Health care would seem to be the perfect issue in that respect--an important policy matter that speaks more broadly to Obama's readiness to be president. Why they'd let their health care critique get overshadowed by off-key character attacks is still a mystery to me.

--Noam Scheiber