Ready, Aim, Fire

By Ed O'Keefe

Jan 24, 2008 9:44am

Opinion by Matthew Dowd, ABC News Political Contributor

Lordy Moses, what a last few days watching the Democratic race for president heading into the South Carolina Primary.

I have said for many months that the Hillary Clinton campaign was like the British Military during the American Revolution or India.

She had assembled all the generals and officers, she had all the fancy uniforms, they had practiced all the formations that had worked in battles in the past, everyone had their medals, and they were girded for a fight.

And for Barack Obama to win this battle, he would make a big mistake by taking the fight to the "British" in the same way and with similar plans and formations. He had to run a different type of campaign –- a more unique and unprecedented type of effort which would seek not engage the Clinton campaign on their turf.

When he has run a more original campaign which matched his message, he has been successful, and when he is confronted her in the way she and her campaign fights, he hasn’t done as well.

Obama is favored to win South Carolina this weekend –- primarily because of his strength with African American voters. The big question is: will he get any momentum out of it, and how will he do on Super Tuesday?

The way he has campaigned this week, I see problems ahead for Obama. 

He is engaging the Clintons straight up on their battle formations. He is trying to send his own version of British soldiers against them, and as we all know, a more experienced British Army will beat a less experienced British Army every time.   

In my view, he needs to take a page from Gandhi (or Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose holiday was celebrated this week) and not hit back in similar fashion and practice tenacity in the pursuit of truth in a non-violent way. 

Let Clintons have their "war room" and have him rise above it.   

How the debate that happened this week turns out in voters mind is an open question, but the fact that Clinton and Obama were basically reduced to the political version of a playground fight, isn’t a good thing for the Obama campaign. 

If he becomes a typical politician running a typical campaign of hitting your opponent, he loses his brand. 

However, the Clintons might be making a long term mistake in the type of campaign they are running recently. They could be sowing seeds of major problems with voter groups over time (especially the general election) by alienating Obama supporters -– specifically motivated black voters and younger voters.   

Hillary could win the primary fight, and have taken the energy out of two key voter groups she needs to win the general election. 

The way the Clintons have come after Obama reminds me of a scene in the movie "The Patriot" with Mel Gibson and the late Heath Ledger.

As you may recall that mean-spirited British officer finally has enough of the Revolutionaries, so he huddles a small town of people into a Church then locks the doors and burns everyone inside alive. It helped in the short term, but was a rallying cry in the long term. 

So as we head into South Carolina, my unsolicited advice would be for the Clinton campaign to not overdue the attacks, and for the Obama campaign to go back to a less negative while still confrontational plan.   

If that were to happen, then no matter what the results, the voters would stay engaged.

And as a total aside on the Republican side, some unsolicited advice for Mitt Romney: since he seems to have deep pockets, I would buy a Super Bowl spot which would air two days before Super Tuesday. 

Produce something funny and real creative, and they would get tons of free press out of it –- no campaign has done this before!

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