Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Hillary's Last Stand

It is no longer possible to overstate the trouble in which Hillary Clinton's campaign finds itself. Her losses yesterday in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C., surprised nobody, but the one-sidedness of the results seemed to stagger even a generally anti-Hillary press corps. The trio of elections favored Barack Obama, of course, coming as they did in places with both sizable African American populations and large numbers of highly educated, upper-middle-class white voters. But Obama won at least 60% of the vote in all three jurisdictions, a figure he could not have achieved without performing exceptionally well outside of his two base constituencies. It is no longer a matter of hype and momentum: Senator Obama has started to pull ahead in a decisive manner.

Simply put, if Senator Clinton is to remain competitive in the race for the Democratic nomination, something must change between now and March 4 when her firewall states of Texas and Ohio hold their primaries. There are three possible ways this could occur, and two are fairly unlikely. First, she can win one of the states up for grabs next Tuesday. This, however, appears next to impossible. Barack Obama was born and raised in Hawai'i, and should win that state's caucus overwhelmingly. Wisconsin, whose Democratic voters cluster in Milwaukee, a city with a strong African American population, and Madison, a quintessential liberal college town, seems tailor made for Obama as well, and recent polls indicate that he currently enjoys a double digit lead in the battle for the Cheesehead vote.

Assuming that Hawai'i and Wisconsin are out of reach, Clinton's next hope would be to pick up a key endorsement that would blunt Obama's momentum. John Edwards is the obvious choice, followed perhaps by Al Gore. But the two Democratic stars have no incentive to attach their names to a campaign that appears, at least for now, on the verge of implosion. Indeed, Clinton's bigger hope is that these key endorsements don't instead go to Obama sometime within the next two weeks. Regardless, endorsements increasingly appear overrated; if Ted Kennedy's blessing could not deliver Massachusetts to Senator Obama, then what real effect could Edwards or Gore possibly have on voters in Dallas and Cincinnati? Four years ago, Gore threw his weight behind Howard Dean, which did nothing to prevent the Democratic electorate from ultimately siding with John Kerry.

That leaves the upcoming presidential debates as perhaps Hillary Clinton's last, best hope of recovering in time to score the big wins she needs come the first Tuesday in March. She has been a strong debater, generally more secure and effective than Obama, though he has been catching up quickly. She has debated as frontrunner and then as equal. Now Senator Clinton must, for the first time, craft a strategy as the underdog.

As I see it, she will take the stage with three goals. The first will be to persuade voters that the race is not yet over. She must do this both through her demeanor and by what she actually says. There must be no clumsy attacks, no Hail Mary moments that reek of desperation. Clinton should review all of Mitt Romney's moves in his final debates with John McCain and Mike Huckabee and do the opposite in every instance. There is a setting between hopeless petulance and giddy, unbelievable self-assurance; she needs to find that place and remain there for the entire evening.

Clinton must also remind voters of the closeness of the actual delegate count. She obviously cannot do so in a way that sounds too much like a plea to be taken seriously. But she can point out, in the course of her various responses, that she and Senator Obama, regardless of the outcomes since Super Tuesday, remain essentially tied for the nomination. Even if he handily wins Hawai'i and Wisconsin, Obama will still lead Clinton in total delegates by no more that about 200, a number barely exceeding 50%. Further, in terms of raw votes cast, the results similarly approach 50-50. In short, expectations and hype aside, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are, for now at least, all but even in the race for the nomination, and she must emphasize that point.

Second, she must be willing to put Obama on the defensive. Despite the current surge of support he is experiencing, the Illinois senator remains vulnerable to the "Where's the Beef" question. One of the reasons Obama has been so successful thus far has been his ability to emphasize themes over substance. Hillary, on the other hand, is the wonk's wonk, and has failed badly at trying to match her opponent's soaring rhetoric.

At long last, she should accept who she is and try to force Obama to play on her turf for a while. She should lead with substance and detail, and demand that Obama do the same. Call him out when he doesn't. This obviously does not have to be done in an argumentative way, but simply as part of a conversation between political professionals.

Similarly, Clinton should take a page out of Karl Rove's book and go after Obama's greatest strength. So he thinks he's the guy who can join Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner, Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell, in a big group hug? Read some relevant quotes from the Republican leadership and its talk radio attack dogs. Ask Obama to explain very clearly how he plans to get people like that to sing Kumbaya on cue. Barack Obama wants to be a lover; make him explain when and how he would be a fighter. If he takes the bait, he undermines his own message; if he doesn't, he might appear both naïve and easily manipulated.

Finally, Hillary Clinton must reprise the debate over experience, but this time tie it to the battle against John McCain. For her purposes, the Republicans have selected exactly the right presumptive nominee. McCain's strengths, Washington smarts and foreign policy credibility, correspond precisely with Obama's weaknesses. Remind voters that the goal of the campaign is to beat the GOP, and that she can bring all of Obama strengths (symbolic and real change, a reversal of Bushism, etc.) to the table, while still being able to match McCain card for card in each of his strong suits. She does not need to convince Ohioans and Texans that Obama cannot win; she merely has to interpose enough doubt in their minds that they are unwilling to put an end to the vetting process just yet.

Debates, especially during the primary season, consist of two elements. First, there is the debate itself and the immediate reactions of viewers. Second, however, there is also the post-debate news coverage and the battle over spin. When the pundits convene, Clinton needs for them to talk about her confidence and her command of the issues. She must hope not only that Barack Obama is thrown off his game, but that the press corps recognizes and reports this fact.

If she is fortunate, Clinton may be aided by the natural desire of the media to keep the race interesting so that viewers will continue flocking to the Situation Room, as it were. On the other hand, she must overcome the inherent laziness of a profession that tends to develop scripts and stick to them. She must, in short, surprise, if not amaze.

It is a tall order, to be sure. But it is also the only hope she has left. And time is no longer her ally.


Anonymous said...

Barack is NOT qualified to be the Democratic nominee and wis defintely the inferior choice for defeating a Republican contender.
Barack lacks any solid credentials or solid IDEAS. I would not vote for him--neither would most of the folk I work with. They are not impressed by his limited record nor by his avoidance of taking an actual stand on issues (see his actual voting record).
We see him as some pied-piper charlatan who dances on stage, mouths slogans and words that people like to hear, and does not tax his supporters with having to think much about anything:

But WHAT change? Fresh meaning wihtout the connections. know-how, political clout, or backgrund to accomplish the political maneuverings necessary to get things done in DC? Can do WHAT? (beside get him elected so he can be even more puffed-up about himself).

Barack runs for president like my old high school classmates ran for class president: I am cool, I am popular, I look fly/phat, I make exciting speeches. Well, that's okay for the vapid job of class president, but it is nowhere near sufficient for runing a world power.

He is nothing more than a late-night TV infomercial--well, not really. At least the Oxy Clean guy SHOWS US how the product actually works.

I am one sister who sees nothing in this candidate worth voting for -- and I, for one, will NOT vote for him simply because our skin tones match. I am looking for experience and substance and found it in Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton.

GoVegetarian! said...

Five reasons to support Hillary Clinton

1. 1872 Victoria Claflin Woodhull became the first woman US presidential candidate. (Women would not be allowed to officially vote until July 1920 with the passage of the 19th Amendment)

2. 1966 Indira Gandhi became Prime Minister of India (and again in 1980)

3. 1969 Golda Meir became Prime Minister of Israel

4. 1979 Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister of Great Britain

5. 2008 One hundred and thirty-six years after Woodhull’s bid to lead our nation, America still has not had a female president. Yet worldwide other major nations (many others not noted here) have been far more progressive.

No, this cannot be about gender alone, but it's a fact that Hillary Clinton is more qualified than her opponent. Consider, she has 7 years in the U.S. Senate vs. her opponent's 3 years, that is still 4 more valuable years of experience in the National Government. (NOTE: 4 years is the difference between a high school diploma and a college degree)

If you agree, please cut and paste this and email it to all the wonderful, talented, savvy women in your life. I’m sure they’ll agree, it’s about time we give ourselves a shot at the oval office.

Start by sending her cash ( ...then, if you haven't already, by casting your vote.

Anonymous said...

Yes - I'm fired up by Obama's speeches - but it's because his walk matches his talk.

Is he a uniter and experienced? I'll take ethical and smart over experienced and sleezy any day.

I spent some time looking at his voting record and Hillary's - and yes, he does have some absences this year because of the campaign, but take a look at this site about how he worked with Republicans in Illinois. Those "present" votes Hillary brought up were a part of a deal they made between the two parties to each get what they needed to pass particular legislation.

As for your comments about how long it's been without a woman president. I'll give Hillary a little bit of kudos for cracking the ceiling - but I certainly don't want the first woman president to get in because she ran on her husband's resume.

Hillary has gone through 3 governor’s campaigns, 2 senatorial campaigns, and this is her 3rd presidential campaigns. So, yep - she knows how to talk and do those “listening tours” better than anybody. But she never really talks about bills she's sponsored and passed in the 8 years she's had so far. I got this from another post, but I went to two different websites to check it out. Just google Congressional voting records and you all can find this.

So check out her record - what happens because she “gets up every morning and says ‘how can I help somebody today?’ Here is her list of stunning accomplishments.

Senator Clinton, who has served only one full term (6yrs.), and another year campaigning, has managed to author and pass into law,
(20) twenty pieces of legislation in her first six years.
These bills can be found on the website of the Library of Congress (, but to save you trouble, I’ll post them
here for you.
1. Establish the Kate Mullany National Historic Site.
2. Support the goals and ideals of Better Hearing and Speech Month.
3. Recognize the Ellis Island Medal of Honor.
4. Name courthouse after Thurgood Marshall.
5. Name courthouse after James L. Watson.
6. Name post office after Jonn A. O’Shea.
7. Designate Aug. 7, 2003, as National Purple Heart Recognition Day.
8. Support the goals and ideals of National Purple Heart Recognition Day.
9. Honor the life and legacy of Alexander Hamilton on the bicentennial of his death.
10. Congratulate the Syracuse Univ. Orange Men’s Lacrosse Team on winning the championship.
11. Congratulate the Le Moyne College Dolphins Men’s Lacrosse Team on winning the championship.
12. Establish the 225th Anniversary of the American Revolution Commemorative Program.
13. Name post office after Sergeant Riayan A. Tejeda.
14. Honor Shirley Chisholm for her service to the nation and express condolences on her death.
15. Honor John J. Downing, Brian Fahey, and Harry Ford, firefighters who lost their lives on duty. Only five of Clinton’s bills are more substantive.
16. Extend period of unemployment assistance to victims of 9/11.
17. Pay for city projects in response to 9/11
18. Assist landmine victims in other countries.
19. Assist family caregivers in accessing affordable respite care.
20. Designate part of the National Forest System in Puerto Rico as protected in the wilderness preservation system.
There you have it, the fact’s straight from the Senate Record.

Now, I would post those of Obama’s, but the list is too substantive, so I’ll mainly categorize.
During the first (8) eight years of his elected service he sponsored over 820 bills. He introduced
233 regarding healthcare reform,
125 on poverty and public assistance,
112 crime fighting bills,
97 economic bills,
60 human rights and anti-discrimination bills,
21 ethics reform bills,
15 gun control,
6 veterans affairs and many others.
His first year in the U.S. Senate, he authored 152 bills and co-sponsored another 427. These included
**the Coburn-Obama Government Transparency Act of 2006 (became law),
**The Lugar-Obama Nuclear Non-proliferation and Conventional Weapons Threat Reduction Act, (became law),
**The Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act, passed the Senate,
**The 2007 Government Ethics Bill, (became law),
**The Protection Against Excessive Executive Compensation Bill, (In committee), and many more.

The last point I want to make is that Obama’s got a record of working with Republicans in the Illinois legislature - and it’s for real.

For all those smug democrats out there who love to bash President Bush, the one thing that must make him chuckle when he looks at his 34% approval rating is the 20-24% rating the Congress consistantly receives - because Pelosi and the boys won’t work with the Republicans (and vice-versa when the Republicans were in charge).

Wouldn’t it be something if Obama could convince them to work together as Americans first to get something done rather than constantly stalemating on the major issues like immigration and tariffs and putting baseball players on steroids ahead of education and a rotting infrastructure in this country.

Yes - it’s time for a uniter - and no, I don’t agree with him on everything - but he is someone who thinks things through. I was impressed when he figured out that 45 years is long enough for Cuba in the “time-out” room diplomatically. For goodness sakes if this country can do trillions of dollars of business with China who is actively stealing our military and industrial technology now, has no problem doing business with Putin when Russia is run by communist mafiosos - then why can’t we normalize relations with Cuba - whose number of political prisoners is a teeny tiny drop in the bucket. Nothing enables freedom more than commerce and communication with the outside world - and it’s long past time to get over it and reach out to that country - without trying to install “our own” leader.

He's a smart man with good judgement and he's got my vote.

PJ said...


PJ said...

regarding the first 2 comments - baloney!