Everybody got that? Nearly 24 hours after the yes-no-maybe-so Sen. Hillary Clinton gave on a plan to give driver's licenses to illegal immigrants, she released a statement (parse away!) saying she "supports governors like Governor Spitzer who believe they need such a measure."
Here's guessing that a (sort-of) position isn't going to keep this issue from resonating on the trail. This was never really about the policy anyway -- she would have been attacked on the substance no matter what she said at Tuesday night's debate. And with two months before Iowa (and just three weeks before Thanksgiving), everything's magnified anyway.
What made the debate exchange Clinton's biggest setback since Sen. Barack Obama's fund-raising explosion was that it fit so neatly into the construct her rivals are trying to impose on the race: That Clinton's caution -- and comfy lead -- has her obfuscating her views, being (to revive a term) Clintonian.
Per The New York Times' Adam Nagourney, Clinton, D-N.Y., has to contend with a "damaging line of criticism: That she, taking advantage of her dominant position in some polls, is not being candid about her views and about would she would do as president."
It's not just the wonky stuff of immigration, Social Security, and Iran: Rival campaigns and Republican researchers are homing in on the issue of the Clinton library papers that remain sealed from public view. "Those are the years and times that candidate Clinton now constantly cites as proof that she has the experience necessary to become president," Andrew Malcolm blogs for the Los Angeles Times. "So, trust her, she says, it's all there. You just can't see it."
"How can people fully judge that record if the documents from those years remain locked away?" Obama, D-Ill., tells the AP's Amy Lorentzen. "I think last night's debate really exposed this fault line. . . . Senator Clinton left us wondering where she stood on every single hard question."
The document question was among the subjects discussed on a conference call for Clinton supporters yesterday. One participant said that debate moderator Tim Russert "should be shot," before adding that she shouldn't say that on a conference call, per the scoop from The Hill's Sam Youngman. On the call, which Youngman managed to listen in on, strategist Mark Penn still maintained that Clinton won the debate, and used the attacks as a plea for cash. "Sen. Clinton needs our support now more than ever if we're going to see this six-on-one to try to bring her down," Penn said, per Youngman.
That brings us to the other play from the Clinton campaign yesterday: the sympathy card. (Hey, it worked against Rick Lazio, right?) "Ultimately, it was six guys against her, and she came off as one strong woman," a Clinton adviser tells The Washington Post's Anne Kornbult and Dan Balz."
It helps when you have AFSCME's Gerald McEntee fighting for you (and thanks for the visual -- lace 'em up, senator). But it's hard to feel sorry for a campaign juggernaut. The Clinton campaign set the attacks from the debate to music in a Web video -- but good luck singing a song that will make this go away.