ABC News’ David Wright, Sunlen Miller, Andy Fies, Eloise Harper, Kate Snow & Nitya Venkataraman Report: Closing in on the March 4 contests, Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., debuted a campaign ad on Friday with ominous undertones.
"It’s 3:00am and your children are asleep," a voice over says in the ad entitled "Children". "There’s a phone in the White House, and it’s ringing. Something is happening in the world. Your vote will decide who answers that call."
"Whether someone knows the world’s leaders, knows the military, someone tested and ready to lead. It’s 3am and your children are safe and asleep. Who do you want answering the phone?" the ad concludes.
Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., pushed back hard against the new ad, which ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos described as "the nuclear option" on Friday’s "Good Morning America".
Addressing a group of veterans at an American Legion post in Houston, Obama said: "We’ve seen these ads before. They’re the kind that play on peoples’ fears to scare up votes."
The tone of the ad — which echoes the infamous Daisy Ad from the 1964 Johnson-Goldwater presidential race and the red phone ad former Vice President Walter Mondale ran against Gary Hart in their ’84 race for the Democratic nomination — indicates that the Clinton campaign is pulling out the all the stops leading into the Ohio and Texas primaries.
Mondale’s ad, where a red phone rang threateningly in the middle of the night while a voiceover asked voters what kind of leader they wanted to "answer that phone", ultimately worked in his favor: Mondale defeated Hart and secured the party nomination, though he lost in November to Ronald Reagan.
"The question is not about picking up the phone," Obama said. "The question is: what kind of judgment will you make when you answer? We’ve had a ‘red phone moment’. It was the decision to invade Iraq. And Senator Clinton gave the wrong answer. George Bush gave the wrong answer. John McCain gave the wrong answer."
The Clinton campaign rejected any comparison to the LBJ "Daisy Ad" saying Clinton’s ad was a "positive ad" that featured "very soft images" and was not at all like the Johnson ad.
Clinton communications director Howard Wolfson responded to Obama’s accusations of campaign scare tactics by saying, "It is an absolute insult to voters to suggest that a discussion of national security constitutes fear mongering."
"It’s a legitimate question," Wolfson said of the "Who do you want answering the phone" ending note of Clinton’s ad, pointing out that Obama had agreed on that point in a Friday morning speech at the American Legion. (In fact, Obama did say it was a "legitimate question" quickly following to clarify "the question is not about picking up the phone, the question is ‘what kind of judgment will you exercise when you pick up that phone? In fact, we have had a red phone moment: it was the decision to invade Iraq. Sen Clinton gave the wrong answer.")
It seems Roy Spence, the creator of Mondale’s red phone ad, borrowed from his own portfolio in creating Clinton’s latest ad. Spence joined the New York senator’s presidential campaign after New Hampshire.
The Obama campaign also set aside the traditional game of lowering expectations ahead of Tuesday’s vote and instead predicted doom and gloom for Camp Clinton.
"They’re going to fail and fail miserably," campaign manager David Plouffe told reporters on a conference call.
The Obama campaign says, given the closeness of the polls in Ohio and Texas, it’s unlikely Clinton will be able to close the gap among pledged delegates.
According to the Obama campaign math, if Clinton fails to win both states by a comfortable margin — 10 points or more — Clinton would need to win 74% of the 611 remaining delegates in order to close the gap.
Officials with the Clinton campaign dispute the Obama math, noting that this scenario does not take into account superdelegates, party leaders who are free to vote for whomever they like.
Clinton officials accuse the Obama campaign of setting an "artificial standard," arguing that neither candidate will reach the requisite number of pledged delegates to secure the nomination without the help of superdelegates.