He’s always had a plan, which is why Sen. Barack Obama is now the
Democratic presidential nominee. Nobody beats the Clintons, and he beat
the Clintons. Nobody comes into the US presidential campaign to
be leader of the free world with only a few years’ experience and no
well formed or known policies. But he did.

He did it with masterful organization, on the ground and across the
nation. His impressive campaign staff and strategy worked like a
machine (no surprise, coming out of Chicago) on every level and many
fronts. Now, they’ve opened a new one.

Barack Obama’s campaign revealed a Web site [Thursday]
entitled “Fight the Smears” — aimed at, you guessed it — beating back
misinformation, half truths or downright lies being spread about the
Democratic nominee via television, the Web, radio and, most
pervasively, e-mail.

“The Obama campaign isn’t going to let dishonest smears spread
across the internet unanswered,” explained campaign spokesman Tommy
Vietor. “Whenever challenged with these lies we will aggressively push
back with the truth and help our supporters debunk the false rumors
floating around the internet.

The aggressive move on behalf of the Obama campaign to combat these
sorts of whisper campaigns is a tacit recognition that the rumors
floating around about the candidate (and his wife) — e.g. he is
secretly a Muslim, he doesn’t put his hand over his heart during the
pledge of allegiance, Michelle Obama used the term “whitey” in a speech
— won’t simply go away on their own and have the capacity to inflict
real harm on the campaign.

Misinformation campaigns dealing with either a specific candidate or
a political party are nothing new in politics, nor are the so-called
“dirty tricksters” who revel in making mischief.

Which, by the way, are at work in both parties and among the ranks of their supporters.

Meanwhile, Obama has also engaged another front….the religious.

It’s safe to say there’s no page in the Democratic
handbook that recommends sitting down with several dozen
right-of-center Christian leaders one week after clinching the party’s
presidential nomination. So the fact that Barack Obama slipped away
Tuesday afternoon to a borrowed Chicago law firm conference room for
some prayer, frank talk about his faith, and to face some tough
questioning from heavy hitters in the evangelical, Catholic, and
mainline Protestant worlds could be the clearest sign yet that he
really does intend to practice a different kind of politics. But it’s
undoubtedly also a signal that he recognizes the damage done to his
campaign by a spring that featured the Jeremiah Wright show and rumors
about his true religious leanings — one that ended with a decision to
leave his church.

This is both damage control and a new kind of political strategy.

“The purpose was not to line up endorsements,” says one
Obama aide….”It never got heated,” says another Obama adviser, “but
these issues are tough. Abortion is going to come up. Three or four
times, in fact.” But while the topic of abortion is often a
conversation-ender or results in a terse “agree to disagree,” this
group wanted to get at real answers, asking Obama to explain how he
thought through the issue as a Christian.

The article fails to report on that compelling explanation.

The candidate’s advisers believe that if he can improve
upon Kerry’s standing among white evangelical voters by 5 to 10 points
in November (essentially returning to Bill Clinton’s level of support
in the 1990s), he will win the election…

At the same time, another lesson of 2004 looms large. The Kerry
campaign was unprepared when Republicans went after what they had
assumed would be their strength — Kerry’s military service. And that
may be the real reason Obama is wasting no time reaching out personally
to religious leaders and their constituencies. He may be the only
Democrat who could hold those conversations. And he may also be the
only Democrat who has no choice but to.

Speaking of choice, we’ll have to get back to that explanation of a
Christian candidate thinking through his support for abortion.

Sheila Liaugminas

Sheila Liaugminas is an Emmy award-winning Chicago-based journalist in print and broadcast media. Her writing and broadcasting covers matters of faith, culture, politics and the media....