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Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Failed Clinton Strategy

An "incumbent" candidate in a race about change:

The December 2007 cover story for The American Prospect asked "Has Hillary Locked It Up?". The article lauded the "strategic and tactical brilliance of her campaign" and "her political adeptness," concluding that Clinton had pulled so far ahead that the race might be over once the first votes were cast. Now that she's fallen behind Barack Obama, her campaign is being vilified by some supporters who say that she made the strategic mistake of believing that she was inevitable, allowing herself to be positioned, in effect, as an incumbent in an election about change.

Indeed, the Clinton camp seemed to be running on the assumption that the nomination would be locked up by the Super Tuesday primaries on Feb. 5, when more than half the states would have voted. And that was about it - there doesn't appear to have been any game plan for after Super Tuesday. There was no cash on hand or even planned for primary fights after that date. This has allowed the well-heeled and more nimble Obama campaign to steamroll it's way through 8, soon to be 10, straight wins.

In contrast to the shortage of funds and post February 5th plans, the Clinton camp had a surplus of loose talk by her husband. Bill Clinton's negative attacks on Barack Obama were likely the biggest mis-step of the campaign thus far. After briefly reigning in the former president, the New Hampshire win gave them renewed confidence in his "help", and he was dispatched to South Carolina where his racially tinged remarks turned out black voters in record numbers. What likely would have been a 10 point win by Obama became a 30 pointer, thanks to Mr.Clinton.

Bill Clinton's efforts have only served as a reminder that the Clinton campaign model is very old-fashioned and inefficient. It's based on what they did in the '90s, not what works today. Obama, on the other hand, has maximized his cash intake via the netroots, and planned to fight in every single state. He had agents in nearly every state one year ago, setting up offices and laying groundwork. The Clinton's by contrast, focused on the Super Tuesday states, and are once more pinning their hopes on a few large states while Obama racks up wins in every other state that "wasn't worth Clinton's time". That model served them well in the 1990's, but what the Obama camp has done to it's advantage is to win states not even considered to be in play for a Democrat, and by large margins. In many of those states, his primary votes surpassed the vote totals cast by Republicans in the same contests. Those kind of wins could turn November's electoral map into a reverse image of the 1980 results.

Clinton is running on a flawed premise: that superior experience is what party voters are looking for. The 2006 elections signalled that change was in the air. Obama focused on that from the start, while Clinton didn't start using the word "change" until December of last year. By then it was obvious that she was merely attempting to jump onto a train that had long since left the station. Thousands of new voters, highly energized youth, and inspired voters are on board that train, and Barack Obama is at the controls.

Word's don't matter?

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