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Clinton drives home her Lincoln-Douglas debate idea and Obama demurs -- again

April 29, 2008 |  6:34 am

Anytime you hear a candidate in American politics propose a Lincoln-Douglas style debate, you know they're losing.

Hillary Clinton is making that proposal daily now. (See video below.) She knows Barack Obama is not going to accept. He's said that many times, including on national TV to Chris Wallace on 'Fox News Sunday,' where he finally appeared after two years of delays.

He's got nothing to gain by accepting -- give in and give her more TV face time with voters when, frankly, debating hasn't been his strong suit, especially the last one when he got pressed harder. And now his good friend, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, is back on the scene talking trash and raising new questions for the media.

As a debate response, Obama says he wants to spend the remaining time until May 6 meeting real voters and hearing and addressing their genuine concerns. He says he recalls from school days that....

...the toughest playground talker wasn't always so tough.

The Lincoln-Douglas debates were actually seven three-hour encounters around the state of Illinois in 1858 as Abraham Lincoln, who was still two years away from prime-time and seven years from assassination, argued with Stephen Douglas for three hours at a time in what is remembered as eloquent verbal confrontations. With no microphones, mind you. It was Lincoln's last election loss.

Candidates who are behind bring up those debates when they want to throw down a high-minded-sounding challenge. Clinton's proposal is for a 90-minute encounter with her Senate colleague, no moderator, just each one asking the other tough questions. Let the voters see for themselves, don't you know.

She'll drive this point home endlessly -- and hopelessly -- for the next seven days to feed the nascent impression or worry that Obama is not a tough enough fighter for the fall general election campaign.

Some columnists over the weekend suggested his above-the-fray attitude is wearing thin, raising concerns among some Democrats, contrasted with Clinton's scrappy gut-fighting. If he's afraid of debating a fellow Democrat, what's he gonna do when he confronts the former fighter pilot?

Since Clinton can't really catch Obama mathematically in delegates, her best hope is to feed doubts in the minds of superdelegates so that come June and the primaries' end, they'll disregard the numbers and go for the toughest-looking and most electable candidate, namely her.

Even if they don't and they swing the nomination to Obama to avoid a profound party split, she's positioned herself perfectly as the natural go-to girl in 2012 if the young Obama loses to the old man. Told you so, but she'd never say that, of course.

Clinton, fresh from a nearly double-digit win last week in yet another major Midwestern state the Democrats must win come November, doesn't seem the least bit unsure of herself, as you can see for yourself in this new video below.

--Andrew Malcolm

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