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Friday, 31 October 2008

It has only been twelve hours since the bombshell audio tape was handed to Aljazeera TV's office in Peshawar, Pakistan, but the tremors generated by the recording are being felt across the length and breadth of the American political landscape, if not across the globe.

Osama Bin Laden has struck again. In his latest audio message, the world's most wanted man has endorsed Barack Obama in the US presidential elections, addressing the erstwhile favorite as Barack Hussein and calling Obama his 'Akhi' (brother in Arabic).

How Osama's support of Obama will play out on November 4 is open to speculation, but one thing is for sure: the race that till yesterday appeared lifeless because of its predictability is very much alive now.

Played on CNN, Bin Laden's seven minute audio speech is full of outrageous material, albeit delivered in a calm tone. The rant has the trademark Bin Laden stuff: historical background to prove that the Muslim world is under siege, call for Muslims to unite and wage jihad against the West, etc. but the most relevant part is in the last two minutes when Bin Laden delves into the American politics.

Making his inclinations very clear in the recording, Osama speaks with fondness for Obama and berates the Republicans. He calls McCain evil and says if he were around in 1973 he would have bought McCain from the North Vietnamese.

In fact, the content of the latest Bin Laden audio tape is so outlandish that the Obama campaign appears nonplus in dealing with it. Eight hours after the tape was played on CNN Obama's staff still had to come up with an official response to the endorsement from hell. The out of the blue sponsorship has thrown Obama's camp in disarray with some members trying to come up with a cogent response and others trying to fit a conspiracy theory--McCain's secret ties with Al-Qaeda, GOP's bribe to Al-Jazeera TV--to the "plot." But talking privately to the reporters campaign staff expressed its disbelief and dejection on this latest development. One Obama staffer who did not want to reveal his identity in the press said, "This endorsement has surely derailed our (Obama's) political juggernaut. It is almost as if the Titanic hit the iceberg."

Bin Laden's last videotape appeared in October 2004. Though another Bin Laden video was released in 2007, many experts believe it was recorded back in 2004.

Lately, Al-Zawahiri, Bin Laden's right hand man, has been more active in issuing statements to the media. The latest message from Bin Laden is being critically analyzed by experts for its authenticity. But the damage done by the tape to the Obama campaign is already measurable. The latest Zogby tracking poll results show Sen. John McCain leading Sen. Barack Obama 49% to 42% in Colorado. The poll has a 3% margin of error.

Pundits are predicting similar shift in voters' loyalties in the other eight battleground states--Washington, New Mexico, Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New Hampshire.

Though Obama campaign may not be ready yet to issue a statement on Bin Laden's endorsement of its leader, other prominent Democrats are talking. Speaking to a small crowd outside a Washington DC shopping center, Howard Dean, Chairman of the Democratic National Committee said, "We will not let terrorists decide the political future of the US." And Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi told the reporters, "This is not 2004. American voters are much more intelligent and resolute this time. People who are going to vote for Obama are unfazed by the message from a terrorist. They are still going to vote for Obama."

Whereas Bin Laden's taped message has sent Democrats scrambling for reassurances to the voters, Republicans are undoubtedly joyful by the latest development. Sen. John McCain, 72, still has to formulate an official message for the American public, but his staff members are finding it hard to hide their jubilation.

McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds told the reporters, "A man is known by his associations. The American public understands it should not be voting for someone so adored by our enemies." Talking to the media another McCain staffer called Bin Laden's endorsement heavier than Collin Powel's, "in fact, so heavy that it would sink the ship."

Ben Porritt, a spokesman for Sarah Palin, told a group of journalists in New Hampshire, "It is the miracle Palin talked about just days ago. We are going to win. It is now pretty much written on the wall."

And Republicans are not the only ones visibly amused by the latest turn of the events. Bin Laden's endorsement of Obama has given reasons for Hillary Clinton's supporters to rejoice as well. Though Clinton herself has not issued an official statement, a close associate told reporters Hillary 2012 was now "a strong possibility."

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