Sweet column: Obama, Clinton aim in independents. Obama campaign officially launched one year ago, Feb. 10, 2007.

SHARE Sweet column: Obama, Clinton aim in independents. Obama campaign officially launched one year ago, Feb. 10, 2007.

Dem contenders shift focus, knowing independents may be key to election

CHICAGO–‘It’s hard to imagine now,” said Dan Pfeiffer, a spokesman for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. “But when we first started this thing. … We never knew that it was all going to come together.”

Pfeiffer is in his office at Obama’s national headquarters at 233 N. Michigan, which over the last year has morphed from looking corporate to cluttered, with stuff everywhere and an oddball assortment of furniture sprinkled throughout.

Reflected Pfeiffer, “Were people going to really all come work for us? Were we going to be able to raise money to compete with Sen. Clinton? Was the appetite, was what everyone saw in Barack’s appeal in the previous year going to translate to a presidential campaign or not?”

The answer to all those questions turned out to be yes. One year ago, on Feb. 10, 2007, Obama stood in front of the Old State Capitol in Springfield to officially declare his candidacy. Now he’s in a deadlock with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) in a contest that may not be decided until the Democratic National Convention in Denver, with more states voting this weekend.

Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean said he wanted the nominee determined before the convention. “I think we are getting ahead of ourselves,” said Obama while on his campaign plane Thursday. “You know, a month ago, I don’t think anyone would have anticipated all of the twists and turns that have taken place, and so I don’t think we should be speculating now on what this race is going to look like a month from now.”

The year has shown there is not much of an ideological divide between Obama and Clinton on most issues. The last 12 months have introduced Michelle Obama to the nation as a formidable campaigner for her husband, just as the Clinton camp has seen the emergence of Chelsea Clinton as a forceful advocate for her mother.

This last year, Obama has built a Herculean campaign organization, part machine — Obama is hungry for establishment endorsements — and part movement. Obama is appealing to younger voters who have, to paraphrase Caroline Kennedy, never experienced an inspirational, aspirational candidacy.

But the campaigns at this point are really about electability, and there is a new factor finally in play: Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is the presumptive Republican nominee, and Obama and Clinton are recalibrating to take into account more than ever the November general election opponent.

“I think it is important for those who participate in the Democratic primary to give some thought about who matches up best with John McCain. I think I’ve made the case,” said Obama on Thursday.

Exit polls from the states that have voted show Obama draws support from independents; but so does McCain.

Howard Wolfson, a Clinton spokesman, said Friday, “Sen. Obama’s weaknesses, his position on issues, in our opinion are not widely known by independent voters. He has gotten the most favorable press, I think, in the history of American politics over the past several weeks.”

Obama needs to make the case to independents he’s their man so he can beat Clinton. After finally getting a one-on-one with Clinton after a year, Obama now finds himself competing with another media “darling,” McCain.

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