It's getting hot out there on the presidential 2008 trail as voting time draws closer. Here are a few things to remember as you watch the rhetorical and advertising bullets fly:
1. There's NOTHING wrong with drawing contrasts with an opponent--aka "going negative"--if there's a solid basis for it.
2. In my observation, generally speaking, the major candidates in both parties have been careful in their attacks so far and not flagrantly crossed the line into demagoguery.
3. It will likely get more negative on the Republican side since the top candidates--especially Giuliani and Romney--are fighting over a question of fundamental identity within the GOP: namely, who is really a conservative? This is also where there's greatest risk for phoniness, however, since the two Republican leaders are more alike than they acknowledge as successful politicians in Northeastern locales that favor the combination of moderation on social issues and conservatism on taxes and spending.
4. Attacking is more delicate and risky on the Democratic side because of the historic nature of the Clinton and Obama candidacies. Whoever wins the nomination will need strong support from women and from African-Americans.
5. Attacking is also harder on the Democratic side because both Clinton and Obama are plainly mainstream left of center candidates who have few if any fundamental disagreements of philosophy. Even on Iraq--potentially promising for Obama because he opposed the Iraq war from the start while she voted to authorize it--they positions on what to do now are similar.
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