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Eye On 08

Eye On 08Tufts Political Science Professor Jeffrey Berry offers his insight on some of the top contenders in the 2008 presidential race.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [02.26.07] As the media frenzy surrounding the 2008 presidential race grows, there were reports last week of Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama rubbing elbows with Hollywood celebrities at a California fundraiser and Republican contender Mitt Romney launching television campaign ads in some states. With the candidates stepping into the spotlight, Tufts political science expert Jeffrey Berry talked to New England Cable News’ Good Morning Live about their strengths and weaknesses.

“He’s definitely a rock star,” Berry told the news program about Obama, the Illinois senator who drew a crowd of thousands during a campaign stop in New Hampshire earlier this month. “He’s off to a great start,” Berry added.

Despite Obama’s popularity, Berry, who teaches a course at Tufts on the presidency, said the candidate has one major flaw: “He’s not well qualified to be president of the United States.” But to the American people, he added, that may not matter.

“Americans don’t seem to care much about the qualifications for presidency,” Berry said on Good Morning Live. “We keep electing people with thin credentials: George W. Bush, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton. It doesn’t appear at this point to be much of a problem for him.”

While many American voters don’t seem to be concerned with Obama’s resume, Berry said they are similarly indifferent to Romney’s religion. According to Berry, the former governor of Massachusetts—who is a Mormon—shouldn’t lose too many votes because of his religious background.

“Overall I think Americans are fairly tolerant at this point,” Berry told Good Morning Live. “I think the number of people who say they won’t vote for him because he’s a Mormon don’t know who he is and don’t know much about him. He still has low name recognition across the United States.”

While Romney’s new television ads, which began airing in New Hampshire and Iowa on Feb. 21, are aimed at increasing his national visibility, Berry said Romney still may encounter some problems as a result of “his flip-flopping with the conservative right.”

“Those are the people who might be upset about him being a Mormon,” he told the news program. “So there could be some interaction there.”

Berry pointed out that Democratic candidate Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton is facing a controversy of her own, stemming from her 2002 Senate vote in favor of a measure authorizing the use of United States Armed Forces against Iraq. According to the political science expert, liberal Democrats want Clinton to admit that she made a mistake.

“[They] want their pound of flesh from Hillary Clinton for her vote,” he told Good Morning Live, adding that the New York senator has been unwilling to say that she was wrong.

“She has a robotic response towards this: ‘If I had known then what I know now, I would’ve voted against it,’” Berry said. “What they need her to say and what I think she needs to say is: ‘Yes, it was a mistake, and it was a mistake because I believed George Bush and George Bush lied to me and the American people. And that’s one of the very first things I’ll do as president is to pull the troops back.’”

While Clinton—and fellow democratic candidate North Carolina Sen. John Edwards—are both coming under fire for their early support of the war, Berry noted that Obama keeps reminding voters that he has opposed the war all along—and his strategy appears to be working.

“It is resonating,” Berry told the news program. “Among the top three [Democratic contenders], he has the clearest record on the war.”

And Obama is using that to his advantage.

“He’s emphasizing that right now … because that’s Clinton’s weakness,” Berry said. “I really think he’s going for the jugular, and it’s going to be effective.”

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