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Hillary Clinton's choice: high road or low road

April 16, 2008 |  3:31 pm

If Hillary Clinton's head is spinning as she goes into this evening's eagerly anticipated debate with Barack Obama , it's easy to understand why. Talk about getting conflicting signals!

There was data aplenty this week showing that, as the slings and arrows have intensified in the Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton advised by ally Douglas Schoen to go on the attack against rival Barack Obama Democratic presidential contest, her image has suffered. But then there was this advice from an ally closely linked to her now-deposed chief strategist, Mark Penn: Go on the attack, relentlessly.

First the data:

The new L.A. Times/Bloomberg poll that focused on the next three primary states -- Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Indiana -- found her credibility suffering in each among likely Democratic voters. Obama trounced her when the voters were asked which candidate had more honesty and integrity. Here are those results:

Pennsylvania -- Obama, 47%; Clinton, 26%

North Carolina -- Obama, 51%; Clinton, 16%

Indiana -- Obama, 51%; Clinton 20%

(To peruse the complete poll, go here.)

Nationally, a new Washington Post/ABC News poll found that her favorability has taken a hit. Among all those surveyed -- Democrats, Republicans and others -- Clinton's positive ratings now stand at 44%, down from 58% in January. (Obama's image also declined over that period, but not by as much. His favorability numbers went from 63% in the year's first month to 56% now.)

Reflecting on the nasty turn the Democratic contest ...

has taken over the last few days, an editorial in today's New York Times said of Clinton: "What she has yet to figure out is that she ends up hurting herself -- feeding her negative image -- by attacking too long and with too much relish."

The editorial, with the witty headline "Guns and Bitter," argued for a more high-minded approach from both Clinton and Obama.

We won't look for that to happen, in part because of the pithy op-ed piece by Doug Schoen in today's Washington Post.

Schoen -- who with Penn founded a well-known political consulting firm and, with his partner, helped guide Bill Clinton's 1996 reelection -- got right to the point in his piece. Hillary Clinton, he wrote, "took an important step Monday toward winning the Democratic nomination by launching an ad targeting Barack Obama's recent comments about working-class voters clinging to 'guns or religion.'"

In the second sentence, he offers this: "For Clinton to capture the nomination, she needs to completely abandon her positive campaign and continue to hammer away at Obama."

She must do so, Schoen sums up quickly, because "it almost certainly represents her last chance" to win the race.

The merits of his argument can, and perhaps will, be endlessly debated. But we've got to give him this: No one can accuse Schoen of hedging.

-- Don Frederick

Photo credit: Los Angeles Times