According to Noam Scheiber of The New Republic, the dust up over Obama’s two faced NAFTA policy doesn’t seem to be going away and in fact, may be working against the Illinois senator:
Okay, scratch what I said about Goolsbee and Canada. I still don’t think it’s substantively a big deal, but between hearing CNN’s reports from Ohio this morning, and listening in on a Clinton conference call just now (and hearing reporters’ questions on the subject), I think they’re getting some significant traction with this story today.
Two things make it problematic for the Obama campaign: 1.) The sudden appearance of this lurid-sounding memo written by a Canadian consular official. I don’t think it’s particularly revealing—as I said this morning, it reflects what the Canadians thought they heard from Goolsbee; there are, significantly, no direct quotes. But the term “memo” just sounds bad—as though there were some cover-up that’s now falling apart. 2.) Certain Obama officials denied last week that there was any contact between the Obama campaign and the Canadian government about NAFTA. That’s clearly no longer “operative,” as Howard Wolfson pointed out on the call. While the memo story is a little ambiguous on its own—the Canadian official claims Goolsbee said one thing; he claims he said another—the Obama campaign’s previous denials will make the press view their current claims more skeptically.
If this story is getting the kind of coverage in Ohio CNN is suggesting it is, it’s hard to see how Obama makes up ground there today.
If you read the parts of the memo from Joseph DeMora who works at the Chicago consulate, it is pretty ambiguous and not exactly a smoking gun showing that the Obama advisor – Austan Goolsbee – gave the wink, wink, nudge, nudge to the Canadian government on OBama’s real position on NAFTA:
Goolsbee disputed a section that read: “Noting anxiety among many U.S. domestic audiences about the U.S. economic outlook, Goolsbee candidly acknowledged the protectionist sentiment that has emerged, particularly in the Midwest, during the primary campaign. He cautioned that this messaging should not be taken out of context and should be viewed as more about political positioning than a clear articulation of policy plans.”
“This thing about `it’s more about political positioning than a clear articulation of policy plans,’ that’s this guy’s language,” Goolsbee said of DeMora. “He’s not quoting me.
“I certainly did not use that phrase in any way,” Goolsbee said.
The meeting was first reported last week by Canadian television network CTV, which cited unnamed sources as saying that Goolsbee assured the Canadians that Obama’s tough talk on the North American Free Trade Agreement is just campaign rhetoric not to be taken seriously. The Obama campaign and the Canadian embassy denied there was any inconsistency between what the candidate was saying publicly and what advisers were saying privately.
Is that true? Even allowing for misinterpretation it is hard to believe that the consulate official could have gotten it that wrong. It may have been more subtle but clearly, Goolsbee left the impression that Obama was saying one thing but would do another if he was elected.
The Canadian government is denying it – for obvious reasons. They’ve already inadvertently injected themselves into the campaign and just wish it would all go away.
But CTV, who broke the story originally, went back and reconfirmed the story with their government sources. The fact that by all reports the memo in question received very wide distribution inside the Canadian government also points up the seriousness with which the Goolsbee conversation was taken. This despite the insistence by the Obama campaign that Goolsbee was pretty much of an independent operator and wasn’t speaking on behalf of the campaign:
Obama spokesman Bill Burton said Goolsbee’s visit was not as an emissary from the campaign, but as a professor from the University of Chicago. He was not authorized to share any messages from the campaign, Burton said.
Burton, who was on the call while Goolsbee described his visit to the AP, said, “It all boils down to a clumsy, inaccurate portrayal of the conversation.”
Asked if he agreed with Burton, Goolsbee said he did.
Goolsbee, by the way, is Obama’s senior economic policy advisor. Just what was the Canadian government to believe when someone with that pedigree shows up at their Chicago consulate and starts to talk about NAFTA and the campaign?
Regardless of how the events transpired between Goolsbee and the Canadians, the view from the ground in Ohio from Scheiber is significant. Over the weekend, steel workers were picketing Obama’s headquarters in Toledo demanding clarification on his NAFTA policy. And newspapers, pundits, and local talk shows are filled with talk about the incident.
What this has done is killed the momentum Obama was enjoying in Ohio that had allowed him to halve Clinton’s lead in the state. In fact, it appears in both Texas and Ohio, Hillary Clinton has arrested her slide and especially in Texas, has battled back even with Obama:
The Democratic Party presidential primaries in Texas and Ohio remain too close to call between Hillary Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois, with momentum sloshing back and forth, a new Zogby International poll for Reuters/C-SPAN/Houston Chronicle two-day telephone tracking poll shows. As voters in these two big states prepare to wrap up their voting tomorrow, neither candidate has been able to break away from the other.
The two delegate-rich states with elections on Tuesday are among the last of the big states left in the primary election season, and both candidates stand to split the delegates under the partyâ€™s proportional delegate apportionment scheme.
This plays into a developing theme for the campaign – that the race is entering a new phase with Hillary Clinton on the rebound.
There are several factors that point to this scenario. First and most importantly, the national press was stung to the quick by the Saturday Night Live skit from two weeks ago that showed the press fawning all over Obama. The voters agree that the press has been much tougher on Hillary than on Obama.
Recently we have seen two major developments in the press that point to a possible bursting of Obama’s glowing press coverage balloon; 1) There has been increased attention paid to Obama’s national security inexperience; and 2) The national media has finally woken up to Obama’s “Rezko problem.”
Hillary’s “3 AM” commercial has generated an enormous amount of interest and talk on the newsnets as well as Sunday’s news shows. Hillary’s chief strategy guru Mark Penn issued a memo that shows the campaign is ready to take advantage of this issue:
Following up on their conference call earlier today, the Clinton campaign released a memo entitled: “Why Hillary Clinton is Ready to be Commander-in-Chief.”
In the memo, Mark Penn, the chief strategist for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s (N.Y.) presidential campaign, writes: “If Barack Obama says it’s fear mongering to talk about how Senator Clinton will protect America, he is going to have a rough time up against John McCain. This is not a debate he can duck with two wars going on.”
Penn asserted today that an ad that raised the specter of a national security crisis and questioned Sen. Barack Obama’s (Ill.) readiness to handle such an event has fundamentally altered the shape of the race heading into tomorrow’s votes in Ohio and Texas.
Penn said the ad, which began airing Friday, effectively framed the question of “who’s ready and prepared to be commander-in-chief.” Penn added: “Just by merely asking the question and nothing more, millions of people understood what is the answer to that question.” He called it a “tipping point” in the race that has signaled a “change in momentum.”
Surely part of this is pure spin. But Penn is a savvy guy and I think the ad has finally given the Clinton’s a way to attack Obama effectively.
But the attack will mean little unless Obama is taken off his pedestal and shown to be an ordinary politician. And with the trial in Chicago of Obama’s long time friend and fund raiser Tony Rezko starting today, the national media has finally discovered this story and have begun covering it in earnest.
Obama will almost certainly not be called as a witness. But there’s a good chance his name will surface in connection with an illegal contribution to his campaign. Rezko asked one of this cronies to contribute money to Obama’s senate campaign and then reimbursed him for the contribution. Obama has given the money to charity but prosecutors may bring up Obama’s name in connection with that contribution as evidence of a pattern of behavior on the part of Rezko.
And the infamous real estate transaction involving Obama’s house and Rezko’s purchase of the vacant lot next door is also receiving increased scrutiny. At the time of the transaction, the Rezko’s were broke and creditors were swarming around his companies and assets. And yet, they were able to come up with $125,000 in cash to put as a downpayment on the $600,000 lot – a purchase that allowed his friend Obama to buy his house at a $300,000 discount. Rezko probably got the money via a loan from a shady Iraqi named Nadhmi Auchi who the Pentagon refers to as a “bagman” for Saddam Hussein:
But the case against Rezko prepared by the always determined U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald poses possible new pitfalls for the Democratic front-runner by introducing into the proceedings Auchi, who has been convicted on corruption charges in France and given a suspended sentence. While his friends describe Auchi and his family as victims of Saddam Hussein’s tyranny, Pentagon sources call him a “bagman” who laundered money in London for the Iraqi dictator.
Auchi may also be involved in the Oil for Food scandal where billions of Saddam’s dollars were funneled to western companies.
There are many other questions about the Obama-Rezko relationship that are being asked. More investigations targeting Rezko and his companies are underway which can only mean more trouble for Obama down the road.
NAFTAGate, Rezko, and questions about Obama’s national security credentials have all combined to perhaps – just perhaps – give Democratic voters a slight pause before they anoint The Chosen One as nominee.
And if Hillary has anything to say about it, that day will never come.