Drawing a sharp contrast with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, his main rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, Sen. Barack Obama said in an interview that he has the capacity she may lack to unify the country and move it out of what he called "ideological gridlock."
"I think it is fair to say that I believe I can bring the country together more effectively than she can," Obama said. "I will add, by the way, that is not entirely a problem of her making. Some of those battles in the '90s that she went through were the result of some pretty unfair attacks on the Clintons. But that history exists, and so, yes, I believe I can bring the country together in a way she cannot do. If I didn't believe that, I wouldn't be running."
Obama never used the term "polarizing" to describe Clinton but made it clear he has studied polls that show that many people have an unfavorable opinion of her. "I don't think there is anybody in this race who's able to bring new people into the process and break out of some of the ideological gridlock that we have as effectively as I can," he said.
The problem with clear frontrunner status, it is often followed by a period of introspection, as people weigh the consequences of the candidacy. The prospect of Clinton taking the nomination looks more realistic, which is why I see Obama's strategy as shrewd. Afterall, it isn't as though Obama's "polarizing" angle doesn't have ample merit:
WASHINGTON — Looking past the presidential nomination fight, Democratic leaders quietly fret that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton at the top of their 2008 ticket could hurt candidates at the bottom.
They say the former first lady may be too polarizing for much of the country. She could jeopardize the party's standing with independent voters and give Republicans who otherwise might stay home on Election Day a reason to vote, they worry.
In more than 40 interviews, Democratic candidates, consultants and party chairs from every region pointed to internal polls that give Clinton strikingly high unfavorable ratings in places with key congressional and state races.
The problem is her political baggage: A whopping 49 percent of the public says they have an unfavorable view of Clinton compared to 47 percent who say they hold her in high regard, according to a Gallup Poll survey Aug. 3-5.
Her negative ratings are higher than those of her husband, former President Clinton, former President George H.W. Bush and 2004 Democratic nominee John Kerry at the end of their campaigns.
A candidate's unfavorability scores almost always climb during campaigns. If the pattern holds, Clinton has a historically high hurdle to overcome.
An interesting counter to the inexperienced angle, Obama makes his inexperience a positive, in that he doesn't bring baggage. The fresh factor allows Obama to make the claim that he can heal the ideological rift that people like Clinton personify. Obama addresses his weakness, but in so doing, points to Clinton's, negating the apparent disadvantage. As the reality of a Clinton candidacy sinks in, Obama is positioning himself to capitalize that sense of apprehension. A great theme, and probably Obama's best chance.