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Bhutto fallout

The Washington Post's Kornblut and Murray note that the Bhutto assassination came just hours before Obama was to deliver his closing argument. For Clinton, "Bhutto's death helped underscore the line she has been driving home for months -- about who is best suited to lead the nation at a time of international peril. In her comments Thursday, Clinton described Bhutto in terms Obama (D-Ill.) could not: as a fellow mother, a pioneering woman following in a man's footsteps, and a longtime peer on the world stage."

"The differing reactions of Clinton and Obama to the assassination crystallized the debate between the two just a week before Iowans will decide the first contest in the battle for the Democratic presidential nomination."

The AP's Espo looks at how the Bhutto assassination could affect the presidential campaign in the waning days of the Iowa caucuses. McCain and Clinton "who have made experience a cornerstone of their campaigns, said the murder was proof of a need for a president who is ready to take command." Clinton "declined to be drawn into a discussion about the impact" on Barack Obama. But "McCain was not so reticent about comparing his experience with that of other GOP contenders. 'My theme has been throughout this campaign that I'm the one with the experience, the knowledge and the judgment. So perhaps it may serve to enhance those credentials to make people understand that I've been to Pakistan, I know Musharraf, I can pick up the phone and call him. I knew Benazir Bhutto.'"  

The Washington Times' header: "Slaying may boost Giuliani, McCain"

The Boston Globe writes the assassination "could change that dynamic, a week before the Iowa caucuses."

For Republicans in Iowa, the Des Moines Register writes, "Whether the attack in Pakistan will affect the decisions of Iowa caucus voters will largely depend on whether it can break through the issue that has dominated the Republican contest so far: illegal immigration."

On TODAY this morning, Romney said he would continue financial aid to Musharraf, NBC's Lauren Appelbaum notes. Asked if these events will help Giuliani and McCain's campaigns while hurting him, Romney disregarded the statement. "We have to put events of the world at a higher level than local politics," he answered.

But speaking of… With six days to go, politics is going to be played. The question is who does it the most blatantly. Per the Washington Post, Obama strategist David Axelrod linked "the Pakistani crisis to the different positions that Clinton and Obama took on the Iraq war in 2002, when Clinton voted to authorize it in the U.S. Senate, and Obama, then an Illinois state senator, spoke out against it.

"Clinton campaign advisers pounced on Obama's and Axelrod's comments. 'This is a time to be focused on the tragedy of the situation, its implications for the U.S. and the world, and to be concerned for the people of Pakistan and the country's stability. No one should be politicizing this situation with baseless allegations,' Clinton spokesman Jay Carson said." 

Obama was on CNN last night and NBC/NJ's Aswini Anburajan reports that during the interview, Obama was grilled by Wolf Blitzer on whether his chief media strategist, David Axelrod, had placed blame on Hillary Clinton for the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.  "I don't need to hear what you read because I was -- you know, I overheard it when he said it, and this is one of those situations where Washington is putting a spin on it. It makes no sense whatsoever," he said.

However, this could not have occurred since Axelrod had spoken to a large scrum of reporters in the back of the hall where Obama gave his speech, well after Obama had left the room. Obama went on to say that Axelrod had been asked a politicized question, on how the assassination would affect the Iowa caucuses, which resulted in a politicized answer on exercising good judgment on foreign policy. "But his [Axelrod's] response was simply to say that if we are going to talk politics, then the question has to be, 'Who has exercised the kind of judgment that would be more likely to lead to better outcomes in the Middle East and better outcomes in Pakistan?'" he said.
Newsweek's Richard Wolffe notes, "For weeks Hillary Clinton's aides have looked at the landscape through a simple prism: the more dangerous the world looks, the more voters will be drawn to a 'safe' candidate like the former first lady. That seemed like an easy and comforting explanation for Barack Obama's rise in the polls -- that voters were tempted to 'roll the dice' (in Bill Clinton's phrase) only at a relatively stable time when domestic issues started to seem more pressing than foreign affairs. Campaign calculations tend to be crude, but that doesn't stop political operatives from making them. So does the assassination of Benazir Bhutto push foreign affairs -- and an unstable world -- back to the top of voters' minds just a week before the Iowa caucuses?"

Yet Wolffe doesn't seem to assume this definitely helps Clinton. "But for the Obama campaign the Pakistani crisis is a chance to reinforce the Illinois senator's criticism of Clinton and Bush. 'I'm sure the conventional wisdom is that it's a scary world and you have to be experienced to deal with it,' says Robert Gibbs, Obama's communications director. 'But if all you're doing is using that experience to do the same thing over and over again, you won't get change. I just don't think people are convinced that longevity in Washington is a surefire cure for what ails a scary world. If that was the case, then Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld might not have bungled their way into the worst foreign policy disaster in a generation.'"

Richardson, in Iowa, delivers a speech on Pakistan and the global threats that the US faces, in which he'll once again call for Musharraf to step down. "America must always lead in the name of freedom and we should never allow our nation to perpetuate dictatorships or provide support to tyrants to oppress their people," Richardson is expected to say, according to excerpts his campaign provided First Read. "These policies not only betray our values, they make us weaker and less safe … turning whole populations against us. We are at our strongest when we stand for principle over power."

"Yesterday, I called for President Musharraf to step down. Today, as a nation I am calling on the administration to stand firm for our ideals in the face of terrorism and in respect for the ideals Bhutto stood for. Anything less would send a dangerous signal to the world that terrorism alters our resolve."

No one seemed to struggle more responding to the Bhutto news than Huckabee. Last night, NBC/NJ's Adam Aigner-Treworgy reports, Huckabee attempted to link Pakistan and immigration. Said Huck, "But it also points out something that we should do domestically and that is we ought to have an immediate, very clear monitoring of our borders and particularly to make sure if there's any unusual activity of Pakistanis coming into the country. We just need to be very, very thorough in looking at every aspect of our own security internally because again, we live in a very, very dangerous time."

Dodd said Pakistan should postpone its elections. "You'd end up with a sham that lacks credibility," Dodd said. "That's the last thing you need right now." "The long-shot Democratic contender expressed frustration with the Bush administration's 'preoccupation with elections ... as if that guarantees democracy.'"