Forget what politicians are saying for a moment, and listen to what's just behind their messages. Former governor Mitt Romney is running ads on immigration to say that he's not Sen. John McCain (and who would want to be?). Former mayor Rudolph Giuliani's healthcare plan is designed to tell us that he's not Romney (as if their hairlines didn't give it away). Democrats are passing a lobbying reform bill this week reminding us that they're not Republicans (and definitely have nothing to do with Sen. Ted Stevens). Vice President Dick Cheney is making the media rounds, mostly so we know, well, that he's not mute.
Now comes Sen. Barack Obama with a bolder stroke -- a speech on terrorism that seeks to redefine his foreign-policy vision. His 10 am ET speech in Washington goes well beyond endorsing a withdrawal from Iraq by calling for deploying more troops into Afghanistan and Pakistan -- even if the Pakistani government objects, ABC's Jake Tapper reports. "Let me make this clear: There are terrorists holed up in those mountains who murdered 3,000 Americans. They are plotting to strike again," Obama, D-Ill., plans to say, per excerpts provided to ABC. "If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won't act, we will."
Obama's endorsement of a more muscular foreign policy -- more aggressive even than that of the Bush administration, at least when it comes to Pakistan -- is an attempt to shake up a remarkably static Democratic field. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's advantage is built on perceptions that Clinton is more experienced and tougher on foreign policy -- perceptions she strengthened in her spat with Obama last week over meeting with leaders of rogue nations. The speech "seems an attempt by Obama to ramp up his campaign to the next phase, where [he] hopes to seem not only a youthful idealist, but a president who would pursue a muscular foreign policy and protect the U.S. from terrorist attack," Tapper reports.
The speech comes as a new national poll shows Clinton padding her lead, now with a 21-point edge over Obama. "The Clinton campaign's effort to underscore her experience in government is paying off, according to the survey," Jackie Calmes writes in (Rupert Murdoch's) The Wall Street Journal. "Respondents ranked 'her experience and competence' at the top of six traits they were asked about, with 53% holding positive views and 22% negative."
Obama is up on the air in Iowa on another issue that seeks to shape perceptions of him (and draw contrasts with his chief rivals). The ads -- and new signs he's hanging in his Iowa field offices -- point out that he is refusing to accept money from federal lobbyists and political action committees. It's "a fresh -- and subtle -- front in his ongoing battle with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton," per ABC News. "Though the ad does not mention Clinton, D-N.Y., by name, it is clearly meant to draw a contrast between the two Democratic front-runners."