Time for Dems to Get Down and Dirty

New Hampshire Results Lead to Full-Scale Battle

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That popping sound you heard last night wasn't the champagne corks at the Clinton and McCain headquarters. No, that was the sound of pundits and so-called experts pulling explanations and excuses out of their posteriors.

Perhaps one of my favorite moments of the night was when, not five minutes after sage Carl Bernstein explained that Hillary Clinton would be using less of Bill in the future, CNN's Bill Schneider examined the exit poll data and declared that a large number of those voting for Hillary said they did so because of ... Bill Clinton. My second favorite moment was watching each and every one of them with that confused look in their eyes before saying, "But the polls showed ..."

Also fun to watch was the ridiculous amount of attention given to Hillary's "crying." I'm no feminist, but c'mon people. As Rudy Giuliani said, "This is not something I would judge anybody on." In the rush to slobber over Barack Obama and to send Hillary down the river, the pundits and the media failed to notice that the Clintons buckled down and went on the attack. I've been wrong before and I'll be wrong again, but I think that the so-called outbursts from the Clintons actually helped them. What some dubbed an "angry" response from Hillary at a debate over the weekend -- see it for yourself here -- was actually, in Mickey Kaus' words, "a forceful putdown" -- the kind male candidates are "expected to come up with." As for Bill's performance at Dartmouth? It may not have been classy, but there was a ring of truth to it. What do you know about Barack Obama? Other than that he gives stirring speeches in which the word "change" is used 5 million times, has a nice smile and has been on the cover of a lot of magazines?

Like a house cat, the media will get tired of Obama shortly and turn on him, but until then the Clintons have a primary to win and they're not going to get any help. So that means going on the attack. For whatever reason, the Democrats so far have not gone negative on one another in their advertising. They've been content to pretend they were running against George W. Bush instead of one another and that they're taking some sort of high road to office. While Republican ads have been full of specific attacks on each other, the Democratic ads have been full of -- well, let's just say the smell being given off by all the talk of change and hope is getting a bit strong.

But the fact remains, the Dems have been hestitant to publicly go after one another. The much-vaunted Clinton opposition team has stumbled in its efforts to get negative press out about Obama. And Obama's been able to sit back and let Hillary do herself in.

That's going to have to change. And I think Hillary (if not her handlers) should be smart enough to realize that she's not going to win this one with the media and she's not going to win it by insinuating Barack Obama is not electable because Americans are racist or won't vote for an inexperienced guy. Bill Clinton, after all, was the governor of a backmountain state best known for chicken farming, anti-Semitic Passion Plays and a prevelance of Confederate flags. (Full Disclosure: I'm from Louisiana so pot calling kettle black and all.)

Hillary won this the old-fashioned way: campaigning hard, spending money and pointing out over and over again that for all the high-falutin' talk, her opponent's words are just that -- words.

So how will she get that message out? Ads. Hard-hitting ads. Sure, she'll catch some flack from the media and the usual whiners who complain that negative ads don't work or are somehow harmful to society. She'll likely be called a closet racist. And she might even fall behind in opinion polls because voters don't want to be seen as so unenlightened as to not vote for Obama.

But it's the only shot she has of winning. Obama, on the other hand, will have to hope the momentum from Iowa and the strong second in New Hampshire will be enough to convince black voters in South Carolina that he can actually win. One of the few smart things uttered on CNN last night came from Donna Brazille, who said that black women are going to be hugely important in this primary. I don't know that ads -- other than radio spots on black radio -- are the best way to tap into that audience. Events seem the better bet. Since blacks make up over 50% of the Democratic voting base in South Carolina, you can expect some heavy spending there and for the fight to get a little more bruising.

On the Republican side? Lord only knows. But notice that the media seems to be writing off Rudy Giuliani. That's as good a sign as any that he's got a good shot to stage a Feb. 5 comeback. That and he's got plenty of money and the other frontrunners are splitting the vote. Either way, look for Giuliani ads to start hitting the airwaves later in the month. He's run to national broadcast spots and he's likely to run more. Romney, too, is likely to keep pushing his big buys. And if McCain can turn his New Hampshire win into actual dollars, he'll have to start advertising a little more aggressively as well.

EXTRA! EXTRA! Hey, go answer our poll question: Can Huckabee keep winning without upping spending?