Republicans are out to crush Barack by painting him as a leftwinger
with dubious support
February 17, 2008
Leading Republicans believe they can trounce Barack Obama in the
presidential election by tarring him as a shady Chicago socialist.
They are increasingly confident that his campaign could collapse by
the time their attack machine has finished with him.
Grover Norquist, an influential conservative tax reform lobbyist,
said: "Barack Obama has been able to create his own image and
introduce himself to voters, but the swing voters in a general
election are not paying attention yet. He is open to being defined as
a leftwing, corrupt Chicago politician."
Norquist's comments will be music to the ears of Hillary Clinton,
Obama's Democratic rival, who believes Obama has not been
sufficiently "vetted" for the White House. She has been unable to
attack him too vociferously without risking a backlash from
Democratic primary voters, but Republicans may salvage her campaign
by doing the job for her.
Obama has the voting record of a "hard-left" socialist, according to
Norquist, from his time in the Illinois state legislature to the US
Senate. He was recently judged by the nonpartisan National Journal to
have the most liberal voting record in 2007 of any senator.
"It will be easy to portray him as even harder-left than Hillary,"
said Norquist. "Hillary could lose the election, but Obama could
collapse. People already know Hillary and she is not popular, but the
disadvantage for Obama is that Republicans can teach people who don't
know him who he is."
Newt Gingrich, the former Speaker of the House and Republican guru,
recently described Obama as the "most leftwing candidate to run since
George McGovern" – a reference to the anti-Vietnam-war Democrat who
lost 49 states out of 50 to Richard Nixon in the 1972 election.
Norquist believes Obama's questionable Chicago connections will stir
The city has a reputation for corruption from the days when Al Capone
and his mob ran the town in the 1920s. Obama is tainted by his long
association with Antoin "Tony" Rezko, a Chicago property developer
who is scheduled to go on trial for extorting kickbacks in return for
political favours on March 3, the day before the Ohio and Texas primaries.
Obama bought his family home in Chicago for $1.65m, $300,000 less
than the asking price, on the day that Rezko's wife Rita bought an
adjoining lot at the full price of $650,000. Obama later paid her
$105,000 for a sixth of her yard in order to expand his garden.
The seller insisted on both plots being sold together, which suggests
that Rezko did Obama an enormous favour even if the deal was not
illegal. The seller has so far evaded press inquiries, but he is
regarded as a potential "ticking timebomb" should he decide to go public.
Clinton briefly raised the question of Rezko, whom she described as a
"slum landlord", in a televised debate with Obama in California, but
was silenced when a 1990s picture emerged of her with Rezko and
President Bill Clinton. Obama has returned around $85,000 in campaign
contributions from Rezko.
"Hillary put the issue into the bloodstream, but it didn't get
focused on," said Norquist. He believes that well financed "527"
attack groups – named after their tax-exempt status – will
mercilessly pursue Obama over his ties to Rezko. It was a
conservative "527" group, the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, who did
grave damage to John Kerry's reputation as a war hero in the 2004
White House race.
Mark McKinnon, a top adviser to John McCain, the presumptive
Republican presidential nominee, said last week he would resign in
the event of a contest against Obama as he did not want to
participate in tearing him down.
But other members of McCain's team have already gone for the jugular.
A testy exchange last year between the two senators over the Iraq
troop surge led a senior aide to take aim at Obama's former drug use
by claiming he "wouldn't know the difference between an RPG
[rock-et-propelled grenade] and a bong [smoking pipe]".
Obama could run into further difficulties over his relationship with
William Ayers, a professor of education at the University of Illinois
and former member of the Weather Underground, a leftwing terrorist
group that planted bombs in the Capitol and the Pentagon in the 1970s.
Ayers told The New York Times on the day of the September 11 attacks:
"I don't regret setting bombs. I feel we didn't do enough." It
emerged last week that Ayers served with Obama on the board of the
Woods Fund, an antipoverty group, from 1999 to 2002, and donated $200
towards his Illinois state Senate campaign in 2001.
Christopher Ruddy, chief executive of the conservative journal
NewsMax and an arch tormentor of the Clintons over the Whitewater
property scandal in the 1990s, believes Obama is "an old-style
Chicago politician" who will nonetheless be difficult for Republicans
"People are already gearing up to take on Obama, but there is a lot
of apathy among the Republican ideological base. You don't see a
level of energy there," Ruddy said. "If they go too far in their
attacks, it will backfire."
Portrayals of Obama as an irresponsible tax-and-spend liberal are
already under way. Lawrence Kudlow, a former adviser to Ron-ald
Reagan, put Obama's "spend-ometer" at $800 billion by costing his
proposals for extending health insurance, implementing green energy
plans, setting up an infrastructure investment bank and other initiatives.
Obama has also said he may tax people earning more than $97,000, a
potentially unpopular move that Clinton is now seeking to make a
However, Obama's chief economics adviser, Austan Gools-bee, a
professor at the University of Chicago, is a supporter of the free
market. Obama has also been endorsed by Paul Volcker, the former
chairman of the Federal Reserve.
Robert Wolf, the chief executive of UBS Americas, the financial
group, is a big donor. "When I sat down with him, I found him to be
unbelievably refreshing and smart and thoughtful," he said.
Obama was introduced to Wolf by George Soros, the bil-lionaire
financier and philanthropist who is a favourite target of the right
for his sponsorship of leftwing groups and antiIraq war stance.
Obama's pledge to withdraw troops from Iraq is a key point of
difference with McCain, who believes a hasty withdrawal could provoke
genocide and let Al-Qaeda regain its footing.
Patrick Murphy, a Democratic congressman and Iraq war veteran, said:
"I'm proud to be a fiscal conservative and, in my opinion, Obama is a
moderate. He wants to partner with businesses and corporations."
He also believes Obama will withdraw responsibly from Iraq. "He has
laid out a timetable fora 'pull out and strike strategy' – pull the
troops to the border and strike against Al-Qaeda."
Obama has managed to draw support from the most leftwing elements of
the Democratic party, such as MoveOn.org, while winning over
independents and disillusioned Republicans. Jim Kessler of Third Way,
a centre-left Washington think tank, said: "He has managed to make an
argument for postpartisanship in a way that appeals to very liberal
Democrats because he is such a gifted orator."
Just as Republicans will seek to tarnish Obama as a leftwinger, so
Democrats will make sure pictures of McCain with George W Bush are everywhere.
Only now are Republicans beginning to ponder seriously which Democrat
will be McCain's strongest election opponent, after assuming for a
long time that Clinton would be the easier target.
Ruddy thinks Democrats might be preparing to ditch the "dreaded
Hillary" only to replace her by the "most leftwing nominee in
memory". Even so, he believes President Obama isa distinct possibility.