The Earmark Gap

Per The Hill , Hillary Clinton is requesting $2.3 billion in earmarks for 2009. That number alone doesn’t mean much unless you compare it to the combined $0 being requested by John McCain and Barack Obama.

Clinton has every reason to request a load of earmarks: She serves a big state with legitimate security needs. But as a general election candidate, a request that size—the most any senator received this year was $837 million—could be a real liability. Anytime Clinton mentions fiscal responsibility, a core part of her case against Bush, McCain could just drop the phrase “$2.3 billion.” Remember how he went to town on her Woodstock museum—and that cost only $1 million.

Against Obama, by contrast, McCain couldn’t say much. Obama has obtained earmarks in the past, but he released them earlier this year and pledged not to request more. (Obama’s earmark requests for 2008 added up to more than $300,000.) The Arizona senator could always accuse Obama of opportunistically forgoing pork just during election season. But Obama could highlight exceptions to McCain’s blanket veto, such as aid to Israel , not to mention McCain’s own ethical slip-ups of yore . What might be a cudgel against Clinton would be a Nerf bat against Obama.

The Hill points out that the requests could be preparing a “soft landing” in case this whole presidency thing doesn’t work out. After all, it’s part of a senator’s job to obtain funding for local projects. But in softening her landing, she also makes her current opponent look stronger.