Edwards' Attacks on Clinton Could Haunt Her, Analyst Says

By Nathan Burchfiel | July 7, 2008 | 8:32pm EDT

(CNSNews.com) - Former Sen. John Edwards' campaign of attacking Sen. Hillary Clinton's (D-N.Y.) credibility and honesty is a good strategy, and it could be one that will haunt Clinton through the entire election, according to political analysts.

"You have to respect Edwards' approach here," Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics, told Cybercast News Service Thursday. "Everybody has been playing Mr. Polite."

"Edwards finally decided, 'If not me, who? If not now, when?'" Sabato said, noting that Edwards' strategy could backfire. "The risk, of course, is that you end up helping somebody else, particularly Obama, but that doesn't necessarily have to be true."

Recent polling in Iowa shows a close race between Clinton, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, and Edwards. The three are separated by less than 6 points in a Real Clear Politics average of major polls. The nearest candidate to Edwards' third place standing is New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who averages 10 percent of support.

"Voters expect a certain amount of give and take in campaigns," Sabato said, suggesting that Edwards could benefit from taking a more aggressive approach toward the frontrunner. "They know it's not supposed to be a Sunday afternoon tea party."

While it remains unclear whether Edwards' approach will help him or Obama, if anyone, what is clear is that Clinton "absolutely, and should be" haunted by questions about her credibility through the Democratic primaries and the general election, if she wins the nomination," Sabato said.

"She got free passes over and over again" until the Oct. 30 Democratic debate, where Clinton was pressed for straight answers from moderator Tim Russert, Sabato said. "This is a campaign for the most powerful office in the world. You should not get patted on the head."

Edwards' campaign has since released Internet-based video ads using clips from the debate to suggest Clinton is being less than honest about her positions on important issues, such as illegal immigration and Social Security.

A Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll released Thursday showed that 61 percent of respondents believe Clinton "says what she thinks will get her elected" while 33 percent said they think Clinton believes in the positions she takes. Fifty-three percent said they believe Clinton tries to avoid being straightforward.

Yet the same poll found Clinton with a dominating lead in the Democratic primary nationally. With 44 percent of the support, Clinton led Obama, who had 23 percent, and Edwards, who had 12 percent.

Sabato said that if Clinton wins the nomination, any damage inflicted now by Edwards will likely stick with her. "Any damage Democrats can do to her now will assist Republican efforts in the fall," he said, adding "that assumes she's the nominee and that's still a big assumption."

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