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Analysis: Obama must show he's ready to rumble

  • Story Highlights
  • Sen. Barack Obama has been running as uniter and talks of reconciling divisions
  • Obama trails Sen. Hillary Clinton by 30 points in nationwide polls of Democrats
  • Senator from Illinois has shown some signs of playing hardball in recent weeks
  • Next Article in Politics »
By Bill Schneider
CNN Senior Political Analyst
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(CNN) -- What can Sen. Barack Obama do to turn the Democratic campaign around? He has to try a different kind of campaign.

Polls show Barack Obama as the most likable Democrat but Hillary Clinton with the best chance to beat the GOP.

No more Mr. Nice Guy.

When the senator from Illinois got into the presidential race, he promised something different, saying, "I've been struck by how hungry we all are for a different kind of politics."

Obama has been running as a uniter -- someone who can reconcile divisions. Video Watch the senator in peacemaker mode »

In August, he said, "We're going to need somebody who can break out of the political patterns that we've been in over the last 20 years. And part of that is the notion that half the country's on one side, the other half's on the other."

But is that what Democrats are looking for right now? Maybe not -- Obama's running 30 points behind Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York in polls of Democrats nationwide.

What is she doing that's working? She's showing some fight.

"The idea that you're going to escape the Republican attack machine and not have high negatives by the time they're through with you, I think is just missing what's been going on in American politics for the last 20 years," Clinton says.

Democrats are tired of being bullied. They want a candidate who will punch bullies in the nose.

A majority of New Hampshire voters -- who have seen the candidates up close -- say Clinton has the best chance of beating the Republicans next year, according to a recent CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll.

Obama and former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina are not even close.

Which candidate do they find most likable? Obama, followed by Edwards. Clinton trails on likability.

But Democrats don't seem to be looking for Mr. -- or Mrs. -- Nice Guy. The only way Obama might be able to overtake Clinton is by saying, "No more Mr. Nice Guy."

Can Obama get tough? He's trying. In an appearance last week on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno," Obama said, "Hillary is not the first politician in Washington to declare 'Mission accomplished' a little too soon.''

That hurt, a little.

His criticism of Clinton's efforts to overhaul health care as first lady also stung -- Obama criticized her for not reaching out enough, saying, "The problem was that she closed the doors. She just worked with her own people. She locked out potential allies.''

Obama also criticizes Clinton for being too divisive, saying, "The only person who would probably be prepared to be president is Bill Clinton, not Hillary Clinton. We are all very qualified for the job. The question is who can inspire the nation to get beyond the politics that have bogged us down in the past.''

In a new ad, Obama continues to play the peacemaker. In the commercial that started running Monday in New Hampshire, Obama says, "When we break out of the conventional thinking and we start reaching out to friend and foe alike, then I am absolutely confident that we can restore America's leadership in the world.''

What we're not hearing is criticism such as this: "One more time -- 'I have a million ideas. America can't afford them all.' No kidding, Hillary -- America can't afford you.''

That was Republican White House hopeful Rudy Giuliani in Sunday's GOP presidential debate in Florida.

Or from the same debate, this comment from rival Republican Mitt Romney: "She hasn't run a corner store. She hasn't run a state. She hasn't run a city. She has never run anything. And the idea that she could learn to be president, you know, as an internship just doesn't make any sense.''


That's wasn't very nice.

Republicans play rough. If Obama's going to overtake Clinton, he has to make it clear to Democrats that he's ready to rumble. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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