Robert Novak

Bill Clinton's accompanying belittling of Obama as unqualified ("the biggest fairytale I've ever seen") was similarly regarded within the party as a serious blunder. That indeed was the reaction from the Obama camp. Obama himself was condescending about his powerful detractor: "I understand he's feeling a little frustrated right now." In fact, an attack by so powerful and popular a Democratic icon should have been taken seriously by the neophyte candidate.

In New Hampshire during the run-up to the primary, several prominent Republicans expressed to me their regret that they would not have the opportunity to run against a tired, vulnerable Hillary Clinton and had no strategy whatever for contesting a fresh, appealing Barack Obama. An exception to that mindset is Sen. Lindsey Graham, a longtime McCain adviser who feels Clinton would be not only more experienced but a far more formidable contestant than Obama.

McCain, though he is far from beloved in his own party's ranks, is perhaps better equipped to withstand the battering he would receive from the Clintons and be able to respond in kind. In the intense four days of New Hampshire campaigning following the Iowa caucuses, McCain was the subject of unremitting attack from Mitt Romney because of his support for President Bush's immigration reform. He was able to turn aside those attacks by effectively denying that he sought amnesty for illegal aliens.

The lesson of New Hampshire for Obama's campaign should be that rock-star popularity is not sufficient to take on the Clintons, who for a decade have given no quarter to their political foes. When it seemed that Obama would win in New Hampshire, the Clinton camp was preparing an attack strategy against him. Since Obama is favored in the next big primary test in South Carolina on Jan. 26, he can expect more of the same ahead.

Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.

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