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Sunday 20 April 2008

Hillary goes all-out for last chance at White House

As Clinton and Obama trade destructive blows in the run-up to Tuesday's poll, McCain can smile, says Ruth Dudley Edwards

THE BIG day is Tuesday next: the place is Pennsylvania. If Hillary Clinton does extraordinarily well, she might still have a slim chance of winning the Democratic nomination, so she was giving no quarter in the debate last week where Barack Obama was being questioned about his patriotism.

He's been keeping too much bad company, has Obama. For a start, there's his wife, his pastor, his granny, and his friend Bill Ayres. In February, Michelle Obama announced cheerily to a crowd in Milwaukee: "For the first time in my adult life, I am really proud of my country." She's been mostly confined to barracks ever since.

FIGHTING HARD: Hillary Clinton campaigning in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Then, in March, there was the revelation that the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, at whose feet Obama had been sitting for 20 years, had a line in inflammatory anti-white rhetoric and had called on African-Americans to damn rather than bless America.

Obama dealt with that gutsily, by making a major speech on race, but rather spoiled it by trying to put Wright in perspective by telling us his own white granny "once confessed her

fear of black men who passed by her on the street". He was exaggerating an episode in his autobiography where she had been shaken by a bad experience at a bus stop with a threatening black beggar, but maybe his 85-year-old adoring granny, who devoted years to bringing him up, is happy to have her reputation trashed for his electoral advantage.

As for Bill Ayres? He's a Chicago Professor of Education who in his youth was a member of the Maoist revolutionary Weathermen who sought to overthrow the American government. In the Seventies, Ayres used to help plant bombs (inefficiently) at government buildings, about which he appears to be unrepentant. These days he has been a fundraiser for Obama and they sit together on a charitable board.

These embarrassing associations were chucked at Obama during the debate, but what Hillary used most gleefully was Bittergate -- Obama's own statement at a fundraiser in sophisticated San Francisco which was leaked to the blogosphere: "You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them ... And it's not surprising then, that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."

Of course, the John McCain campaign ran with this evidence of Obama's snootiness, while Hillary had herself photographed throwing back beer and a whisky chaser in a small town while reminiscing about her childhood duckhunting with her granpaw.

"She's talking like she's Annie Oakley," responded Obama crossly.

Hillary will keep bashing Obama with this one: however much he denies it, he has shown his contempt for the white working class who could decide the vote in Pennsylvania. However, her campaign officials are trying to bury the subsequent allegation that at Camp David, in 1995, in front of witnesses, Hillary told Bill to forget about the Southern working class voters who had abandoned the Democrats at the congressional elections. "Screw 'em," she allegedly said. "You don't owe them a thing, Bill. They've done nothing for you. You don't have to do anything for them."

Though he protests against negative campaigning, Obama is making full use of Hillary's gaffes, particularly her claim to have been under sniper fire in Bosnia. Bill has made this worse. By the time he had finished explaining away on television the lie Hillary had called a misspeak, he had told so many more porkies himself that he gave the story a new set of wings.

Not for the first time, I wondered if subconsciously Bill really doesn't want Hillary to be president. Certainly the dodgy business arrangements of his that have contributed to the $100m or so the Clintons have made in the last few years could yet finish off Hillary electorally.

As Hillary and Obama duff each other up, McCain is grinning as he goes steadily up in the polls and fills his war chest. Two-thirds of Democrats think Obama would be more electable than Hillary, and 57 per cent of Americans find Obama likable, compared to 47 per cent for McCain and 37 per cent for Hillary.

So for McCain to have the Clintons accusing Obama of being elitist and anti small-town white is sweet indeed.

And where is Irish-America in all this? Mostly loyal to the Clintons, that's where.

In New York last week, Hillary promised that as president, she would reinstate the St Patrick's Day parties at the White House, have a special envoy to Ireland reporting directly to her, visit the island north and south, sort out illegal immigrants and help the economy. Apparently 20 per cent of Pennsylvania's population is Irish-American.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards