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Experience Attacks on Obama Fail, Says Clinton Chronicler

Who cares about Washington experience, anyway?

Not the voters, according to internal polling from Clinton strategist Mark Penn, which was leaked to Joshua Green for his new Atlantic article about Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s loss. In a conversation this morning, Green told me that "one of the most interesting" memos he obtained was a December 2007 assessment of "all the attacks" that the Clinton campaign considered against Sen Barack Obama. "If you look at them from most effective to least effective, the least effective one was experience," he explained. Yet Sen. John McCain has made inexperience "the centerpiece of his attacks on Obama," Green noted, an odd choice if the data is accurate.

Out of a list of 12 "Obama negatives," the "no experience to be president" attack came in dead last with voters. The top three attacks most likely to turn voters away were arguments that Obama was unelectable, inconsistent on Iraq or a flip-flopper in general. The experience argument not only failed among Democratic primary voters, it was even less effective among independents. Independents cared less than Democrats about attacks on Obama’s experience, lobbyist ties, health-care reform or Iran policy. They valued consistency and electability — the most resonant attack for independents was the idea that Obama "could debate himself."

While Green said it was striking that McCain is deploying the "least effective attack" against Obama, the Arizona senator may just be following the Clinton pattern. Faced with data showing that target voters were not moved by attacks on experience, and engaging a public that clearly hated Washington experience, (as I noted in my earlier Green post today), Clinton still relied on a *personal *measurement of strength. Deep down, the New York senator seemed to feel she was better than Obama because of her experience. Like McCain, at times she radiated a sense of outrage that she was forced even to compete with this upstart. That sense of entitlement, even vanity — which affects many politicians, of course — led her to make a rare detour from the counsel of her chief strategist and the comfort of poll numbers. She was wrong. That time, Penn’s numbers were right. McCain may be making the same mistake.

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