Whatever the polls are telling the Barack Obama campaign in the final days before the Iowa caucuses, it does not seem to be putting them at ease.
Yes, Mr. Obama is still doing his best to sound the positive, inspiring campaign notes that conventional wisdom tells us Iowans want. (“There is a moment in the life of every generation when that spirit—that hope—has to break through,” he told a hushed audience in Mt. Pleasant on Saturday evening. “This is our moment. This is our time.”)
But he is also spending an inordinate amount of his precious final hours with voters of Iowa rebutting the arguments of his rivals, even as his campaign mounts ever-fiercer attacks against them.
Referring at the same event in Mt. Pleasant to an outside 527 group being aided by John Edwards’ former campaign manager, the Illinois Senator offered this: “Folks are warning now, ‘these other candidates are going negative on Obama and that’s going to drive his poll numbers down. They are sending out mailings and getting phone calls and running ads and millions of dollars are being poured in by groups that nobody knows who is giving them the money.”
The Obama campaign has been relentless in pointing Mr. Edwards’ connections to the 527 group and his seemingly inconsistent positions on accepting outside money, sending out a barrage of statements and memos criticizing Edwards for “relying on a former aide to run an unregulated 527 operating outside campaign finance limits to support his candidacy” even as Edwards decried such influence on the campaign trail.
After Mr. Obama’s speech on Saturday in Mt. Pleasant, his chief strategist, David Axelrod, walked in wearing a red sweatshirt, jeans and a weary expression.
“We’re at the end of a caucus, OK? It’s a very close contested race,” he said when asked about the criticism of Mr. Edwards.
“The question is when you decry these things that they should be illegal, and then your campaign manager comes in and plumps down $750,000 dollars on one of these 527s, you got to ask are you being straight with people,” said Mr. Axelrod. “I think that is a legitimate question. You can’t on the one part say, ‘I stand apart from all this’ and then benefit from it.”
(The response from Edwards campaign communications director Chris Kofinis: “As John Edwards surges, it’s not surprising that other campaigns are resorting to the old Washington game and launching desperate, false attacks. David Axelrod, Senator Obama’s chief advisor, is unfortunately using the oldest political trick in the book by trying to mislead voters by linking two things together that are not linked. Axelrod, who himself worked for a 527, knows very well that the John Edwards campaign is completely independent and cannot control any outside group or communicate with it.”)
In his remarks at the event in Mt. Pleasant, Mr. Obama also raised questions about Mr. Edwards’ sincerity.
“When you ask yourself who is going to be best equipped to bring about changes that reduce the power of special interests and reduce that power of lobbyists,” said Mr. Obama, “you should take a look at what people did when in the past, what they did before they were running for president, what they did before the spotlight was on and the cameras were clicking.”
And Mr. Obama made a point of responding to Mr. Edwards’ suggestion that he was too accommodating to bring about real change.
“One of the things that I learned early in my career,” Mr. Obama said, “is that if you know who you are, if you know in your gut what you are about, who you are fighting for, what you stand for what you will not compromise, then you can reach out to people and disagree with them you can reach out to the other side, you don’t have to worry about losing your focus and your moral compass because you know what you believe and by reaching out you actually may be able to get something done.”