Tucked at the end of Adam Nagourney's piece previewing how the Republican attack machine will run against Obama if he wins the Democratic nomination, Mark Penn offers this rationale for why Hillary Clinton would be a better competitor against John McCain:
[Obama] regularly goes out there and says he’s the person who can beat John McCain,” said Mark Penn, Mrs. Clinton’s chief strategist. “But the truth is, if he is ever in a general election, a lot of positions he took in 2003 and 2004 will come back to haunt him in a big way and a lot of the vetting that didn’t happen will happen. The independent and Republican support that he has had will evaporate really quickly.
Discounting the fact Obama has already been vetted, Penn's argument implicitly suggests that the Democrats need a candidate who is McCain-lite to compete against the real thing. Obama's positions on immigration, Israel and guns would open him up to attack, Penn's logic goes. By positioning Clinton as the centrist, Establishment candidate, Clinton's still faces the intractable problem that is her Iraq War vote. Clinton closed the debate in Cleveland with her strongest words yet repudiating the 2002 vote. Is Penn now suggesting here that even Hillary's pro-war vote could be an asset in the general if she gets the Democratic nomination? By painting Obama as outside the mainstream, Penn is trying to position Hillary as closer to the Republicans, and therefore, more electable. He's not the first person to suggest that Hillary and McCain are "very close."