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2/24/2008
HILLARY: DEAD OR ALIVE?

I love Sunday newspapers. There always seem to be columns and stories that sum up the past week’s news on a given subject and try to glean some essential truth that a single day’s coverage failed to do.

This Sunday, when it comes to Hillary Clinton and the state of her campaign, there are a lot of these summary pieces but there doesn’t seem to be a consensus. Across the country, pundits are either making the case that she’s still got a shot (a long one) or that her campaign is toast.

By far, the best summation of the state of the Clinton campaign from an inside perspective comes from the New York Times which is reporting that most of the staff apparently believes the end is nigh but that the candidate is soldiering on valiantly all the way to the end:

To her longtime friends, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton sounds unusually philosophical on the phone these days. She rarely uses phrases like “when I’m president” anymore. Somber at times, determined at others, she talks to aides and confidants about the importance of focusing on a good day’s work. No drapes are being measured in her mind’s eye, they say.

And Mrs. Clinton has begun thanking some of her major supporters for helping her run for the Democratic presidential nomination.

“When this is all over, I’m really looking forward to seeing you,” she told one of those supporters by phone the other day.

Mrs. Clinton has not given up, in her head or her heart, her quest to return to the White House, advisers say. But as resolute as she is, she no longer exudes the supreme confidence that was her trademark before the first defeat, in Iowa in January. And then there were more humbling blows, aides say: replacing her campaign manager on Feb. 10, then losing the Wisconsin primary and her hold on the women’s vote there last Tuesday.

[snip]

Morale is low. After 13 months of dawn-to-dark seven-day weeks, the staff is exhausted. Some have taken to going home early — 9 p.m. — turning off their BlackBerrys, and polishing off bottles of wine, several senior staff members said.

Some advisers have been heard yelling at close friends and colleagues. In a much-reported incident, Mr. Penn and the campaign advertising chief, Mandy Grunwald, had a screaming match over strategy recently that prompted another senior aide, Guy Cecil, to leave the room. “I have work to do — you’re acting like kids,” Mr. Cecil said, according to three people in the room.

Others have taken several days off, despite it being crunch time. Some have grown depressed, be it over Mr. Obama’s momentum, the attacks on the campaign’s management from outside critics or their view that the news media has been much rougher on Mrs. Clinton than on Mr. Obama.

The polls in Texas and Ohio continue to narrow. Clinton enjoyed a double digit lead in both states as recently as 2 weeks ago. But Obamamentum appears to be working its magic and Texas is now a dead heat in the latest polls while Hillary’s lead in Ohio has shrunk to an average of 8 points, down from 14 just days ago.

The staff of a national campaign is finely tuned to how a particular race is going and can read the writing on the wall probably better than the candidate herself. Many of them probably have access to data which suggests that she has lost her edge among women, among working class Democrats, and among seniors. Losing any of those core Clinton groups on election day in either Texas or Ohio probably means that she will go down to defeat.

The Times piece isn’t exactly a post-mortem but it does bring out some of the criticisms of the campaign that have dogged Clinton for weeks - ever since Super Tuesday:

Over take-out meals and late-night drinks, some regrets and recriminations have set in, and top aides have begun to face up to the campaign’s possible end after the Texas and Ohio primaries on March 4. Engaging in hindsight, several advisers have now concluded that they were not smart to use former President Bill Clinton as much as they did, that “his presence, aura and legacy caused national fatigue with the Clintons,” in the words of one senior adviser who spoke on condition of anonymity to assess the campaign candidly.

The campaign’s chief strategist, Mark Penn, and its communications director, Howard Wolfson, have expressed frustration with the difficulty of “running against a phenomenon” in Senator Barack Obama; their attacks have not stopped Mr. Obama from winning the last 11 contests. Some aides said Mr. Penn and the former campaign manager, Patti Solis Doyle, had conceived and executed a terribly flawed campaign, something Ms. Solis Doyle disputes. Both she and Mr. Penn have been especially criticized as not planning a political strategy to compete in the primaries after Feb. 5.

They will probably be even more frustrated in another month or so as Obama is beginning to be torn down from his lofty perch by a suddenly curious media who are looking much closer at his record and associations in the past, revealing traits of radicalism and far left advocacy that proves to be the antithesis of his stump speech. (Expect his association with domestic terrorists William Ayers and Patricia Dohrn to make the jump from blogs to the mainstream any day.) And the gaffes of Mrs. Obama are going to resonate with voters long after the media coverage of them ends.

In short, eventually Obama’s bubble is going to burst. And when it does, I’m sure the Clinton’s will be kicking themselves in the rear end if they weren’t there to take advantage of it.

Or will they? There are also several pieces floating around the internet today that still give Hillary Clinton a shot at the nomination. To my eye, they look like wishful thinking rather than long shot scenarios. But if this campaign season has proven anything, it is that the most unlikely of scenarios has a shot at becoming plausible.

And there are 9 long days left before voters go to the polls in Texas and Ohio.

Victor Davis Hansen outlines a winning scenario for Hillary that, to my mind, would probably hurt the Democratic party egregiously:

I still maintain that the Clintons (if she can squeak by in the next two primaries) will use every means to find a way to challenge, seat, or sway delegates to win the nomination, regardless of the aggregate popular vote or ongoing delegate count. While that may not work, I still think she will try if she wins Texas; and if she wins the last three states, it will work. Apparently Peter wants to suggest that the people of Florida and Michigan should be “disenfranchised” or that “undemocratic” caucuses in the night should weigh the same as the results of plebiscites, or that time-tested and loyal super-delegates should have their traditional roles neutered, or that tiny states that will not be in play or won’t matter in the fall should count the same as CA, Fl, MI, NJ, NW, OH, TX, and PN.

This is the “scorched earth” scenario where the Clintons prove every bad and nasty thing people have been saying about them and try and ride roughshod over the process in order to win at all costs.

It may surprise you when I say I don’t think this scenario likely. Hillary is still a Democratic senator and must work with the party in order to get things done for New York. And Bill Clinton would shrivel up and die if their tactics resulted in him being frozen out of the limelight. Besides, if on the off chance Obama loses in the fall, Hillary could make another run in 2012.

Would it be different next time?

It is in such moments of defeat that the Clintons display their remarkable ability to pick up the pieces. After the 1980 loss, they set about reinventing themselves as centrists. An early makeover target was their image as a couple. Hillary dropped her last name, Rodham, and became a public cheerleader for her husband’s policies. A decade later, when the couple’s White House agenda was rejected in the midterm elections of 1994, they took a similar approach, ending their “co-presidency” and diminishing Hillary’s public role. “She viewed ‘94 as a rejection of her,” says one Clinton administration official who declined to discuss the Clinton marriage on the record. “She knew she had to disappear for a while.”

Losing, in other words, has taught Hillary that sometimes she must sacrifice herself for the Clintons’ greater good. It is a lesson that may be worth remembering if she fails to reverse Obama’s momentum on March 4. A protracted, nasty fight for the nomination would tarnish the Clinton name and might endanger the party Bill and Hillary have spent three decades trying to build. The Clintons’ place in history is too valuable to them for Hillary to take that risk. In the history books, after all, she can be the woman who conceded gracefully—and the woman who never quit.

But what about a scenario where she outduels Obama strategically? John J. DiIulio has another, less plausible but a little more party-friendly path to victory for Hillary:

Obama has had some stirring, even brave, things to say: most notably concerning how public education has failed too many low-income children in urban America. Organizationally, the teachers’ unions are the Democratic party’s throbbing heart. Obama, to his credit, was not on their Valentine’s Day list. They will lean against him in several upcoming big-state primaries, and as a super-delegate bloc too.

And Clinton can deflate Obama’s “change” balloon by relentlessly asking him why he decries the “politics” of the “past 15 years.” Does he dislike the Clinton-era presidential politics that expanded the Earned Income Tax Credit, widely regarded as the single most successful anti-poverty initiative of that period? Does he mean the bipartisan bills of the 1990s that led to work-based welfare reform? Does he mean the politics of the “past” that yielded the State Children’s Health Insurance Program? Or maybe he means rolling back post-1993 expansions in Medicare coverage or college loans or spending on low-income (Title I) schools.

Older Democrats, respectful of legislative accomplishments, particularly may not like that Obama often voted “present” as an Illinois legislator, or that his state and federal records seem so thin. Blue collar voters who earn $50,000 a year or less defected from Clinton in the Potomac primaries and again in Wisconsin. But in Texas, Ohio, and Pennsylvania she may hold voters who can’t cut work the way college kids can cut class to attend midday campaign rallies.

Indeed, with big Latino turnouts expected in Texas, older working-class Ohio voters sticking to her like rust, and friends in Pennsylvania like Governor Edward Rendell and Philly’s popular new mayor Michael Nutter, Clinton can still nab the nomination. Fence-sitting super-delegates would quickly warm to a three-state sweep.

In DiIulio’s scenario, both Michigan and Florida delegates would be seated based on the issue of “fairness” and Hillary makes her case to wavering Super Delegates using the big state motif - that she can win those states and Obama cannot. The campaign for Supers is carried out in a low key manner so as not to offend the Obamaites any more than necessary.

What cracks this scenario in half is that Obama isn’t waiting. He is going after the Super Delegates now, striking while the iron is still hot from his string of 11 in a row contests won:

Aides to Barack Obama are putting the squeeze on Democratic officials, urging them to get aboard the campaign “sooner rather than later,” The Post has learned.

Obama supporters have also approached members of Congress and state legislators who face re-election and argued they stand a better chance with Obama heading the ticket than with Hillary Rodham Clinton, sources said.

One Clinton supporter said Obama’s quest goes beyond the battle for “superdelegates,” party big shots who serve as delegates at the Democratic convention. His campaign has reportedly begun reaching out to lower party officials in an effort to put an end to the divisive primary battle.

In effect, Obama is setting the table for March 4. If he wins one or both primaries, expect to see a lot of Super Delegates climb aboard his bandwagon and a huge outpouring of calls for Hillary to surrender. If that were to occur, I would expect Hillary to take the opportunity to retire gracefully, believing it possible that she can come back and fight another day.

By: Rick Moran at 10:35 am
4 Responses to “HILLARY: DEAD OR ALIVE?”
  1. 1
    Lucy Said:
    1:04 pm 

    I live in Texas. I just wish they would let us vote and decide the primaries. The media is making me feel as if my vote doesn’t count. We have jobs. We haven’t voted and we will do so on March 4th. I don’t like that feeling of a voter being unimportant or meaningless. I don’t like how the press is deciding the elections. I thought that I was still living in the USA.

  2. 2
    Faith Said:
    4:41 pm 

    “I don’t think this scenario likely. Hillary is still a Democratic senator and must work with the party in order to get things done for New York.”

    We all know why Hillary became a US Senator. She doesn’t care about “getting things done for NY” beyond the extent that getting said things done will propel her to the Presidency. I am from New York and I can assure you she doesn’t give a rat’s a** about us.

  3. 3
    glenng Said:
    9:45 pm 

    A baby boomer, any baby boomer, building something. In your dreams. They suck the life out of every thing the rest of us built, and wait till you see what their ill educated train wreck kids do.

  4. 4
    rawdawgbuffalo Said:
    10:44 pm 

    well whatever happens, they need to deal with FLA & MICH if they want a nified paty in the end

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