Hillary Clinton's surprise showing in Texas was in part attributed to her 3 a.m. phone call advertisement, in which she offered herself as the Democratic candidate with the ability to handle an international crisis because of her experience. This is not a new message for Clinton's camp, which has always championed her years of experience, but it signifies a shift in tone. Clinton doesn't merely offer herself as a better alternative to Barack Obama, but now suggests that Obama isn't qualified to be president.
This new tone is essentially characterized by a recent line in which Clinton claims that John McCain and her have, "a lifetime of experience," while Obama is basically just, "one speech." This is a confusing argument to make about someone she's hinted could be her vice president, and it's a message that could end up sabotaging either Democratic candidate.
If this new strategy wins Clinton the nomination, it will leave behind in its wake a large bloc of young, disillusioned Obama supporters who won't turn out for the general election. It will also frame the general election as a battle of experience, which is a fight she'll lose.
McCain would be able to avoid Obama's new style of politics that run on hope and fairy dust, and simply have to tout his extensive resume against the house of cards that is Clinton's perceived experience.
If Obama is able to weather Clinton's criticism and emerge with the nomination, his new style of politics could be ruined by the street fight Clinton's camp is trying to draw him into. It would be impossible for Obama to champion a new era of politics if he gets caught up in an old-school battle, and without his new style of politics Obama isn't the inspirational figure that generates mass appeal and leads a grassroots movement. Instead, he's just a one-term senator with a less-than-impressive legislative portfolio and who is in way over his head.
Maybe this will make him battle-tested and ready for a race with McCain, but Clinton's attacks would lend credence to Republican claims that experience matters, and that Obama doesn't have any. Her attacks may not scare away his base, but it could be the deciding factor for those all important independent voters come November.
It's possible to draw contrast with your opponent without going negative, and in South Carolina Obama remained above the fray and scored major points for it. Now, with his candidacy under attack from a last-ditch effort by a desperate candidate, he needs to stay on message. He needs to demonstrate real leadership by not letting rough seas ahead force him to change course. This is the first big test for Obama's new way of doing things, and if he stays true to his mantra and wins, it could be a sign of things to come.
If he comes down off his high horse and gets goaded into a fight, it will ruin everything his campaign stands for, and it could cost the Democrats the White House.
Dave Lombardo is a junior political science major who advises you to grab your umbrellas and prepare for the mud-storm.