Sometimes politicians say things that sound like gaffes and are. (Ask Mitt Romney.)
Sometimes they say things that sound like gaffes but aren't. (Right, John McCain?)
Sometimes they send things out with typos that are hyped into being gaffes. (Was Barack Obama's mailing was a rush rush job job?)
Sometimes candidates shamelessly pander and hope that Yankee fans chalk it up to a gaffe. (Now you're an American League fan? Seriously, Rudy, how could you?)
And sometimes their spouses do the talking for them -- and there may or may not be gaffes involved when you get them going. (Let's let Elizabeth Edwards speak) for the entire political class: "If it ended up on the front page of Drudge, I didn't say it right."
But when you get a candidate talking about his or her spouse, some things that sound like possible gaffes aren't. In the case of the scripted candidacy of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., where little is left for chance, the actual gaffes are few and far between. So when Clinton told Essence magazine that her husband is "so romantic" -- "He's always bringing me back things from his trips" -- it's a good bet that a larger strategy was at work.
Bill Clinton bought her a Chanel watch because the white cubes reminded him of her teeth? That's just weird enough to actually happen in a real-life marriage. And this is Clinton as we've rarely seen her before: "I never doubted that it was a marriage worth investing in even in the midst of those challenges and I'm really happy that I made that decision. Again, not a decision for everybody. And I think it's so important for women to stand up for the right of women to make a decision that is best for them."
It's another step in the great softening of Hillary Clinton. She has never been the touch-feely emotional type, and she isn't now, either. But she's reaching out to female voters, and marveling at how much attention a 60-year-old woman (OK, 50-something for two more days) is getting from all these men. Her pollster is predicting a seismic shift in voting patterns if a woman is nominated. She talked recently about her struggles as a young working mother, as she learned to master the basics of parenting while pursuing her legal career.
But this kinder, gentler Clinton on the trail appears to be having an impact on perceptions many thought were too baked in by 15 years of the public spotlight to melt during a campaign. "Clinton has neutralized the political fallout from some of the most difficult moments of her eight years as first lady, with Democratic voters looking favorably on her failed effort to revamp healthcare and either supporting or having no opinion of her decision to remain loyal to an unfaithful husband," Peter Wallsten and Janet Hook write in the Los Angeles Times.
She's up 15 points since June in the Bloomberg/Los Angeles Times poll, while Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., has dropped 5. That's another 30-point advantage in a national poll for Clinton, who is running up scores like the old Chicago Bulls.