Clinton Looms over Presidential Debate; Ex-Candidate to Be in Audience

Article excerpt

Byline: Stephen Dinan, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

NEW YORK -- She's the most important political figure not on the stage Wednesday in the final presidential debate, yet Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton has been mentioned just once in the first three presidential and vice-presidential debates.

That could change with increasingly desperate Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain still looking for voters and with Mrs. Clinton in attendance as Mr. McCain and his Democratic opponent, Sen. Barack Obama, face off in Hempstead, N.Y.

If there's an opportunity to raise the Clinton name, it will be in this debate, said Morris Reid, a Democratic communications strategist and former Commerce Department official under President Clinton.

Democrats have been thrilled with Mr. Obama's performance in the first two debates, which polls showed he won.

There's no question Senator Obama has gained substantially in the last two to three weeks, said Sen. Bob Casey, Pennsylvania Democrat, saying the debates gave Mr. Obama a chance to demonstrate leadership in the midst of an economic crisis.

Mr. McCain's supporters say he has raised the issues he wanted to raise, but has not broken through - a must for a candidate whose campaign acknowledges he is trailing by 6 percent in national polls.

A month ago, Mrs. Clinton's blue-collar supporters were considered the key to Mr. McCain's path to victory, and he was making active, public efforts to court them. That has receded, with the Republican mentioning her just once, in the first debate, praising her efforts to work on nuclear power. Mr. Obama has not mentioned her, nor did his running mate, Sen. Joseph R. Biden. Jr., or Mr. McCain's running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

Mr. Reid said he is surprised Mr. McCain hasn't tried to do more with Mrs. Clinton's former supporters.

McCain's team has been off of their footing and been off of their game, because they should have played that up. …