Sign of Things to Come

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A forum at the Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government got unexpectedly interesting tonight, when Hillary Clinton pollster Mark Penn lit into Barack Obama on the Iraq war, contending that, for all his talk of how he opposed the invasion in 2002, “there’s not much of a difference” between the way Obama voted and the way Clinton voted, once he got into the Senate.

Penn pulled out quotes from 2004 in which Obama–then a state senator–had said he was not sure how he would have voted, had he been in the U.S. Senate at the time that it authorized the invasion. In another instance, Penn cited a quotation in which Obama had told the Chicago Tribune during the 2004 Democratic National Convention that “there’s not much of a difference between my position and George Bush’s position at this stage.”

“When they got to the Senate, Senator Obama’s votes were exactly the same” as Clinton’s, Penn said. “So let’s not try to create false differences, when we both agree it’s time to de-escalate, when we both agree it’s time to end the war.”

Obama strategist David Axelrod, appearing at the same forum, was visibly surprised by the sudden attack, and said Penn was taking Obama’s quotes out of context. He also suggested that Penn had not portrayed them in “an honest way.”

All of this suggests a new turn in the campaign, and a more direct engagement by Clinton’s operation on the issue that could be her greatest vulnerability in the Democratic primary: her vote in favor of the invasion.