Clinton could feel pressure to step up attacks on Palin

New polling evidence indicating that Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is bringing female voters to the GOP ticket could result in pressure on Hillary Rodham Clinton to be more aggressive in attacking Palin, particularly if Clinton wants to avoid blame from Democrats should Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaFeehery: A whole new season of 'Game of Thrones' Mercury rollback is a direct threat to our children's health Lightfoot takes office as Chicago's first black woman mayor MORE lose in November.

Democratic strategists and Clinton loyalists said the senator and former presidential candidate will likely face increased pressure from the Obama campaign to go after Palin, especially after a new poll Tuesday showed a 20 percent swing in white female voters from Obama to Republican rival John McCainJohn Sidney McCainPelosi receives John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award Romney: Trump 'has distanced himself from some of the best qualities of the human character' MSNBC host: Barr 'the most dangerous person' who works for Trump MORE after the Arizona senator chose Palin as his running mate.


All Democrats interviewed for this story cautioned that they are skeptical of the new Washington Post poll, adding that they remain confident the race will settle back to Obama-versus-McCain after the novelty of the relatively unknown Palin fades.

One Clinton loyalist argued that Clinton does need to be more aggressive in targeting Palin, something she has thus far show reluctance to do, but should do so indirectly, “savaging” McCain instead of Palin and tarnishing the Alaska governor by association.

“I’d expect her to give amazing speeches that also savage John McCain, which make people think Sarah Palin is no Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonThe Memo: Trump faces steep climb to reelection What the Mueller report tells us about Putin, Russia and Trump's election Steve Bullock puts Citizens United decision at center of presidential push MORE and tarnish John McCain,” the source said. “She does need to make clear that she thinks Palin is an extremist. That is where she needs to come out and say, look, voting for an extremist is not what I’m about. I think the Obama camp will ask her to do more.”

And all the Democrats contacted for this story seemed to agree that after the newness of Palin wears off, the race will settle back to a contest between McCain and Obama. And they cautioned that it would be a mistake for Obama to go after Palin now, as that would only keep her in the spotlight.

Some even expressed a concern that Obama, who targeted Palin in his remarks Tuesday, is focused too much on McCain’s running mate and not enough on the top of the ticket.

“Democrats need to continue to make this election about John McCain and his embrace of the George W. Bush agenda, and Barack Obama’s very different vision of change,” said Mark Kornblau, a Democratic strategist and former aide to ex-Sen. John Edwards’s (D-N.C.) presidential bid. “Every minute spent focused on Sarah Palin or anything else is a waste.”

Democrats on the Hill were also reluctant to push Clinton into the attack-dog role, though they were eager to criticize Palin in their own right.

Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillBig Dem names show little interest in Senate Gillibrand, Grassley reintroduce campus sexual assault bill Endorsements? Biden can't count on a flood from the Senate MORE (D-Mo.), a longtime and vocal Obama supporter, said she thinks Clinton has been doing yeoman’s work in campaigning for Obama and shouldn’t be second-guessed for how she does it.

“How people campaign and advocate for a candidate is intensely personal, and I think Hillary Clinton is campaigning for Barack Obama,” McCaskill said. “And I think she’s a hero for doing it. And I think she will communicate very clearly, particularly to her supporters, what’s at stake. I would never ever, ever presume to tell Hillary Clinton how to be effective.”

Mo Elleithee, a spokesman for Clinton, said in an e-mail Tuesday that the New York senator has not been under any pressure to attack Palin, but he declined to offer any further explanation as to why Clinton has thus far not been more critical of McCain’s running mate.

And the Obama campaign said that Clinton has been helpful so far, and it is not concerned about women moving to McCain’s column because of Palin.

“While John McCain was gambling that women voters would overlook the fact that McCain-Palin are offering four more years of … Bush’s failed policies, Sens. Obama, [Joe] Biden and high-profile leaders like Sen. Clinton have been out there discussing the issues that women and families are concerned about — from ensuring that women receive equal pay for equal work to struggling to balance the family budget in the face of skyrocketing energy and healthcare costs,” Nick Shapiro, an Obama spokesman, said.

Already, though, some Democrats were questioning Clinton’s relative silence on the Palin issue, and some were privately wondering if Clinton is really doing all she can to elect Obama or instead keeping an eye on 2012, particularly as McCain has taken the lead in most new polls.

“It is a shrewd and self-serving political move,” one Democratic strategist said. “She knows that for her own benefit she needs to be bigger than the assigned attack dog going after the No. 2 person on the other side. Also, it gives her more credibility as she continues to frame herself as a glass-ceiling-cracker. Meanwhile, though, shouldn’t she be willing to do whatever it takes to help Obama win? Or is she all about Hillary Rodham Clinton?”

Democratic strategists said there will be some Obama loyalists, still bitter from the long nomination battle, who will blame Clinton no matter what if Obama loses.

“You’re going to have hardcore Obam-o-philes who refuse to acknowledge that maybe the fault lies with him and his campaign,” one strategist said. “The fact is Sen. Clinton doesn’t own those 18 million votes.”

Clinton loyalists, however, scoffed at the idea that Clinton could be blamed if women move to McCain’s column.

“Blaming Sen. Clinton is easy spin, but it doesn’t reflect the reality of what’s needed,” Phil Singer, a former Clinton aide, said. “Simply deploying her to go out and attack Sarah Palin day in and day out won’t be the silver bullet that wins the women’s vote.”

Singer added: “It’s the ticket that needs to seal the deal. You can’t rely on people outside the ticket to make the sell.”

Manu Raju contributed to this article.