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Hillary Clinton's 5 mistakes

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0608/10911.html Hillary Clinton s 5 mistakes By DAVID PAUL KUHN | 6/7/08 6:19 AM EST Covering a campaign is more like
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 7, 2008

      Hillary Clinton's 5 mistakes
      By DAVID PAUL KUHN | 6/7/08 6:19 AM EST

      Covering a campaign is more like covering a sports
      team than either sort of reporter cares to admit. The
      same performance that’s labeled “gutsy” after a win
      becomes “inadequate” after a loss.

      While Hillary Clinton managed more primary votes than
      any winning candidate before her, it wasn’t enough for
      the onetime frontrunner to beat Barack Obama. And so
      the mistakes that would have been obscured by a
      victory have instead been brought into relief by her

      Here are five of the key mistakes that helped cost her
      the nomination:

      1) Hubris

      Hillary didn’t just sell the press and the public on
      her inevitability as the general election candidate;
      she sold herself the same bill of goods, telling
      George Stephanopoulos before the Iowa caucus that “I’m
      in it for the long run. It’s not a very long run. It
      will be over by February 5.”

      Hubris was the campaign’s fatal flaw, from which the
      others, both strategic and tactical, derived.

      2) The Iraq War Vote

      “There is a straight line from Howard Dean to Ned
      Lamont to Barack Obama,” said Carter Eskew, the chief
      strategist for Al Gore’s 2000 campaign.

      The 2002 vote authorizing military intervention in
      Iraq has haunted Clinton since, and opened up a space
      for an anti-war candidate in this year’s primary.
      While John Edwards, who cast the same vote, later
      claimed to have made a mistake in doing so,
      Clinton—looking ahead to a general electorate
      disappointed with the war in Iraq but still hoping for
      some sort of victory there (and perhaps also back to
      the 1990s image of the Clintons as serial
      parsers)—continued to defend her vote even as she
      criticized the war.

      “When you have voted the wrong way on the signature
      issue of the change election, it’s very difficult to
      position yourself as the change candidate,” Eskew
      continued. “The whole energy in this campaign was [in]
      being anti-war.”

      Voters associated Clinton with her husband’s
      administration, in part explaining why she based her
      run on “experience” and ceded the more appealing
      “change” role to Obama, whose limited tenure in
      Washington, soaring rhetoric and the historic nature
      of his candidacy all aligned nicely with that
      narrative. (Though as the first woman with a serious
      chance at the presidency, Clinton too would been a
      historic nominee).

      Obama’s consistent opposition to the war, from the
      outset to the present, helped build his brand and
      voter base, and plugged him in to a network of
      small-contribution donors that continues to fuel his
      record-setting fundraising.

      Joe Trippi, who served as a top strategist for John
      Edwards in 2008, believes a Clinton apology would have
      helped take the issue off the table. But many saw
      Clinton’s refusal to apologize as a testament to her
      strength, which she saw as a character trait a female
      candidate couldn’t afford to compromise.

      “They were determined not to make primary mistakes”
      that would come back to haunt them against the
      Republican nominee, said Tad Devine, John F. Kerry’s
      chief strategist in 2004 who remained neutral in this
      year’s primary. “My reaction to that, you don’t get to
      participate in the general election unless you win the

      3) The Trouble With Iowa

      Clinton’s deputy campaign manager Mike Henry wrote a
      May 2007 campaign memo arguing that the campaign
      should “skip” the Iowa caucuses since they "will cost
      over $15M" but "we will not have a financial advantage
      or an organizational advantage over any of our
      opponents” and going all-out there “may bankrupt the
      campaign [but] provide little if any political
      advantage." (The memo, it should be noted, also
      offered the less prescient claim that “In effect, the
      Democratic Party is holding a national primary with
      over 20 states choosing a nominee on Feb. 5.”)

      As it turned out, Clinton spent more than $20 million
      and finished third and short on cash. A great
      unnoticed irony is that had Clinton mostly skipped
      Iowa, Edwards would likely have won, and become
      Clinton’s presumptive rival, leaving Obama out in the

      “She should have gone to Iowa but she should not have
      not doubled down on it. And it cost them the resources
      that she needed to fight a long fight,” said Devine.
      “She was the candidate to win a war of attrition.”

      4) The Great Caucus Blunder

      In the same interview with Stephanopoulos, Clinton
      shrugged off the effect of a potential loss in Iowa,
      saying “I don’t think it’s a question of recovery. I
      have a campaign that is poised and ready for the long
      term. We are competing everywhere through February 5.
      We have staff in many states. We have built
      organizations in many states.” But “many states”
      turned out to mean organization myopically focused on
      big state and Super Tuesday primaries.

      “Keep everything else the same and add that she
      competed in the caucus states, she would have won,”
      Trippi said. “It’s actually fairly amazing.”

      There were some built-in advantages for Obama in the
      caucus states. Party activists are most likely to
      turnout for caucuses, and Obama was the favorite of
      the progressive grassroots. But by mostly neglecting
      these small contests, Clinton conceded delegates that
      effectively cancelled out her gains in larger states.
      In Minnesota, for example, Obama beat Hillary by 24
      delegates, twice as many delegates as Clinton gained
      on her rival in the much larger Pennsylvania primary.

      After Super Tuesday, the smaller contests also allowed
      Obama to offer his own, more credible, narrative of
      inevitability. Between his Super Tuesday draw and the
      Virginia vote, Obama won five small contests in a row,
      including three caucuses. Those victories gave Obama a
      winner’s aura heading into Virginia, which may have
      helped him increase his margin there, which in turn
      further increased his perceived momentum.

      “You could look at any point in this process and
      change one or two states and had a totally different
      outcome,” said Tony Fabrizio, who served as chief
      strategist for Bob Dole in 1988.

      Devine agreed. “If his numbers had not looked so
      overwhelming, the movement of super delegates would
      have been inhibited,” he added. “It would have been a
      different dynamic; a different narrative.”

      5) An Old-Fashioned, Offline Campaign

      “It’s like no one watched from 1984 to 2004,” Trippi
      said of Clinton’s campaign.

      The spectacular internet fundraising success of Howard
      Dean’s 2004 primary run seemed to have had little
      impact on Clinton, who’d built a tremendous network of
      old-school big-money donors.

      Fundraising online might have been more difficult for
      Clinton, considering how much of her support came from
      the establishment. Trippi, though, disputes that
      assertion, pointing out that in February, when
      Clinton’s campaign adjusted to new-fashioned
      fundraising and she began mentioning her Web site
      frequently in her speeches, about half of the
      contributions she received were for less than
      $200—while only about a fifth of her contributions had
      been in that range in the last quarter of 2007.

      It wasn’t just fundraising, though. Politico’s Kenneth
      P. Vogel calculates that Obama spent $6.8 million on
      web ads from the beginning of the campaign through the
      end of April, while Clinton spent just $350 thousand.
      When she finally caught on—spending more on online
      advertising in March and April than in the previous 14
      months—Obama had already built a substantial lead in
      online presence (including ads on the Politico Web

      As with any losing campaign, there’s practically no
      end to the mistakes that can be blamed for
      contributing to Clinton’s defeat. Other culprits would
      include Bill Clinton’s at times unhinged public
      appearances, the racially coded messages the campaign
      was repeatedly accused of sending, the Bosnian sniper
      tall tale, the doubletalk about driver licenses for
      illegal immigrants, and her damning admission that she
      did not read the National Intelligence Estimate on
      Iraq before voting to authorize the use of military

      What we know with certainty is that pundits and
      historians will be busy for years assigning and
      assessing blame—and that the long run was longer than
      Clinton anticipated, and the end result different.
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