By Rick Moran
Tonight is the third Democratic debate – all three on a weekend day – and unlike the first two snoozers, this one promises some fireworks.
Yesterday, noted Clinton surrogate David Brock called on Bernie Sanders to release his medical records. Brock heads up a PAC that can coordinate with the Clinton campaign, unlike other Super Pacs that are barred by law from such cooperation.
So it’s safe to say the attack on Sanders’ age and health came straight from the top.
But after a firestorm erupted on Twitter over the tactic, the Clinton camp disavowed Brock’s tactics.
“@DavidBrockDC chill out,” Podesta tweeted Saturday night. “We’re fighting on who would make a better President, not on who has a better Physical Fitness Test.”
Podesta’s belated comment also came after the Sanders campaign issued its own fundraising plea off of this report, calling it “a new, vile super PAC attack on Bernie.”
The demand, sources said, reflects growing frustration within the Clinton campaign about a perceived lack of media vetting and public scrutiny of Sanders, just as polls in Iowa show a neck-and-neck race that has taken many in the Clinton campaign by surprise.
It marks a contrast from the first eight months of the campaign, when Clinton and her allies mostly ignored her Democratic rival and drew contrasts instead with the GOP candidates.
There is also internal frustration, a source said, about a dearth of surrogates willing to criticize Sanders on television. So far, the attack strategy has been carried out by the campaign itself, which has most recently scolded Sanders for failing to outline the details of his healthcare plan. And principals, such as Chelsea Clinton, have charged that Sanders would “dismantle Obamacare.”
The sense in Clinton quarters that Sanders is not receiving the same level of scrutiny as the former Secretary of State feels all too familiar, reminding campaign veterans of eight years ago, when Clinton and her supporters said Barack Obama had not been appropriately vetted and was getting a free pass from the press.
This new attack strategy, focused on Sanders’ fitness for office, dovetails with focus group findings from Republican pollster Frank Luntz, who has seen voters raise age as a potential problem for Sanders. Clinton, 68, has also faced questions from the right about her age.
Brock, a Democratic source said, is expected to combine the health hit with more questions about the Vermont Senator’s failure to release details for how he’d pay for his universal healthcare plan — creating a two-front assault meant to drive home the point that voters need more information before Feb. 1.
The Sanders camp claims they were going to release the Senator’s health information before the caucuses anyway, so that point is moot. And Hillary wasn’t going to make Sanders’ health an issue during the debate. Such personal attacks are the job of surrogates like Brock.
But expect several sharp exchanges between Hillary and Bernie as they seek to define the other in the most unflattering terms. Sanders will skewer Clinton for her ties to Wall Street while Clinton will excoriate Sanders as being unelectable Clinton will also go after Sanders foreign policy positions as being weak and isolationist.
The Clinton camp is beginning to panic as polls in Iowa and New Hampshire show that it is entirely possible she could lose both. Sanders is playing with house money, which puts all the pressure on Clinton to outperform exepctations. The Democratic debate may not be as entertaining – or as raucus – as the GOP debates, but with both candidates charged up and in attack mode, it will make for an interesting few hours.