Double Team

With tonight’s Democratic debate


as a three-way showdown, it looks like Obama and Edwards have signed atemporary non-aggression pact in order to focus all their audacity and hope onHillary.

Obama announced over the weekend that he plans tostart talking tough with Clinton.Then yesterday, Edwards lobbed the first grenade, attacking Hillary’s integrity in a lofty speech his campaign billed as “definitional,” “Senator Clinton’s road to the middleclass,” he said, “takes a major detour right through the deep canyon ofcorporate lobbyists and the hidden bidding of K Street in Washington – andhistory tells us that when that bus stops there it is the middle class thatloses.”  

Both attacks come at slightly different angles. Obama challengesHillary’s policy ideas. He’s been tweaking her for her Iran vote—not to mention her Iraqauthorization—and pushing her to give details on how she’d fix Social Security.(So far, she won’t say whether she’s willing to raise the retirement age orlift the cap on collecting Social Security taxes.) On Iran, he’squestioning her judgment. On Social Security, he’s daring her to give a straightanswer. But in both cases, he can dodge her accusation that he has “abandonedthe politics of hope” by insisting that he’s focusing on policy.

Edwards, meanwhile, is going after Hillary’s character. Hepointed out yesterday that she has “taken more money from Washington lobbyists than any candidate fromeither party – more money than any Republican candidate.” He’s not justtalking about policy tweaks. He’s saying that she’s part of the “bankrupt waysof Washington.”It’s risky to sell the primary as a referendum on character, since personalattacks never reflect well on the attacker. But Edwards knows that for some voters,Hillary is on shaky ground already. An extra tremor, he figures, and the earthwill open up.

With attacks coming from both sides—perhaps literally—Hillarywill have to play some serious D. But it could also play to her advantage. Ifthey go too hard on her, they might come off looking like bullies. If they gotoo easy, she could just swat them away with a laugh and a joke about gettingattention from men. Either way, they will only solidify her status as the one to beat.