America has a tradition of waging wars on two fronts. First there were the European and Pacific fronts during WWII. In the ‘60s and ‘70s, the United States attacked communism overtly in Vietnam and covertly in Latin America. And these days, we’re fighting the war on terrorism in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
Now the candidates are following suit. Democrats and Republicans have opened several two-front wars during the campaign. A breakdown of the most recent tactical gambles, and what they’re risking:
Obama attacks Clinton and Edwards : A few days ago, Barack Obama started critiquing John Edwards’ anti-lobby stance to compete for second-choice votes . Additionally, Obama and Clinton continue to butt heads over health care, electability, and experience.
Going after Clinton and Edwards at the same time may leave Obama open to claims that he is overly aggressive. He is essentially a front-runner in Iowa, and attacking Edwards could only embolden Biden, Richardson, and Dodd voters to flock toward the besieged underdog.
Clintonites attack Obama: Bill Clinton blasted Obama in an appearance on The Charlie Rose Show , Bill Shaheen rehashed Obama’s drug use , and Bob Kerrey blew on the embers of those pesky Muslim rumors .
Hillary? She stays silent. On paper, this strategy seems to insulate her from any criticism, since her proxies are doing the work for her. But the Shaheen imbroglio showed how quickly scandals can jump the barrier and start affecting Hillary’s image, as well.
Romney attacks Huckabee and Giuliani: Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani have been trading barbs since the early days of the campaign, at no cost to Romney in the early primary states. But since Mike Huckabee’s ascendance, Romney has had to fight Huckabee in Iowa and Giuliani elsewhere, which has driven down his poll numbers in Iowa and kept him stagnant nationwide.
Romney’s troubles are the most foreboding for Obama and Clinton. Romney has been forced to peddle two different messages to two different audiences—Iowans and Americans—while watching his Iowa numbers drop. Attacking a nice guy like Huckabee is very different than attacking a liberally conservative hawk like Giuliani. The more messages a campaign has to churn out, the more strained its resources are. Sometimes scattering your attention can leave an opening for another challenger. Just ask John Edwards, circa 2004, or John McCain, circa 2008.