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Analysis: Clinton-Obama tussle reveals some real issues

Story Highlights

• Campaigns of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama locked horns over supporter
• While no big deal, the tussle raises issues set to be key in Democratic primaries
• Does Clinton have too much political baggage and how does she react to attacks?
• Can Obama stay above the fray and keep a pledge to avoid negative campaigns?
By Bill Schneider
CNN Senior Political Analyst
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LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- The long-term impact of the Tinseltown tussle between the Clinton and Obama campaigns is no big deal, but it showcases a big issue in the primary campaign.

At issue: Can Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-New York, or Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, be elected president?

"There are some Democrats that wonder if either one can win," political analyst Stu Rothenberg said. (Watch how the Clinton and Obama camps went after each other Video)

Obama supporter and Hollywood movie mogul David Geffen raised the issue front and center about Clinton. In an interview with New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, Geffen called her "incredibly polarizing" and said Republicans believe "she's the easiest to defeat.'' (Full story)

The Clinton campaign's tough response, in which it challenged Obama to distance himself from Geffen and return Geffen campaign donations, sent a signal.

It shows Clinton is willing to hit back when someone comes after her. (Watch Clinton and Obama fight for Hollywood dollars Video)

And does Clinton have too much political baggage? That issue is now on the table, too.

The dust-up also raises issues for Obama. Is he really a different kind of politician? Just last Sunday, Obama denounced what he called "slash and burn'' politics, but his campaign issued a slashing attack on Clinton.

"It's not clear to me why would I be apologizing for someone else's remarks," Obama said in Iowa Wednesday night. (Watch Obama refuse to apologize for Geffen's comments. Video)

"My sense is that Mr. Geffen may have differences with the Clintons," Obama said. "That doesn't really have anything to do with our campaign."

Obama, though, quickly got back on the high road.

"I've said repeatedly that I have the utmost respect for Sen. Clinton, and I have considered her an ally in the Senate," Obama said.

In a polarized political environment, there's a lot more strategic voting in the primaries.

"Democrats want a winner and it's not just the party insiders, and it's not just the political consultants," Rothenberg said. "It's real people, real voters. And so I think electability will be a crucial issue."

The rule in politics is that when Candidate A and Candidate B start attacking each other, the benefit goes to Candidate C.

"If Sen. Clinton and Sen. Obama were engaged in a day-in, day-out bashing of each other, I think it probably would help somebody like John Edwards, who could stand above the fray and act presidential," Rothenberg said. "But we're a long way from that."

Do the polls say anything about who's electable?

Five national polls have come out this month pitting Clinton and Obama against Republican front-runners Rudy Giuliani and John McCain. The results are always very close -- usually within the margin of error.

Nobody's unelectable. But nobody's a sure winner either.

Democratic front-runners Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama spar over supporters.


What do you think is the main reason behind the Hillary Clinton-Barack Obama skirmish?
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