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The Bin Laden Question

  • Gavin Hewitt
  • 26 Oct 08, 03:19 AM GMT

strip.jpgIt seemed curious that one of Barack Obama's first campaign stops after returning from visiting his grandmother In Hawaii was the desert fantasy of Las Vegas. With its fountains and Venetian replicas it is disconnected from reality. Its purpose is to escape into a world of games, tables and machines.

(It turns out that it is fertile territory for the Democratic candidate. Some big hotel projects have been mothballed. And many of the casino workers have not seen their wages rise in real terms in years.)

Whilst here a question re-emerged that has been asked before. It, too, is part game yet an important truth lies behind it. Several times on the campaign trail the breeze has been shot with this question "if Osama Bin Laden had a vote, which candidate would he cast it for?"

Before revealing the conventional wisdom on this I want to wind back four years. I was at a rally in West Palm Beach at a John Kerry campaign event when my office called. Osama Bin Laden, a few days before polling, had issued a tape. It was clearly intended to influence the American election.

I walked across to see Mike McCurry who was a Kerry campaign adviser and a former Press Secretary to Bill Clinton. He knew nothing of the Bin Laden tape but immediately recognised its importance. As soon as John Kerry left the stage he sat in his black SUV and worked out a response. By the time he arrived at West Palm Beach airport he had his statement. He would not allow Osama Bin Laden to have any impact on the election. He dead-batted the whole issue.

obama.jpgBut as we enter the final days of this campaign the question is being asked again. What if a new tape emerges threatening fresh attacks? Might this not play in John McCain's favour? Would it not underline that Barack Obama is untested? Would it not make the McCain point that we live in dangerous times?

It brings us back to the hypothetical question. "If Osama Bin Laden had the vote, how would he use it?" Some people answer that he would surely vote for Obama because he believes in "soft power" before military force. But usually the conversation evolves along these lines. Osama Bin Laden would fear Barack Obama more because he will present
a different face to the world. With his diverse background he will be a new American. Barack Obama will be a poor recruiter for al-Qaeda. It's the Colin Powell point that "Obama would be a transformational president...it would electrify the world"

So might Osama Bin Laden then try to strengthen John McCain's hand? It's a thought but only from an idle campaign moment in a gaming city.

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