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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

No knockout punches on either side
Posted by Jill | 6:12 AM
Well, it was a subdued Hillary Clinton on display in last night's debate, at least as compared to the kind of ranting we've seen out of her in recent days. And we saw an increasingly confident Barack Obama, who seems to have shed the fumfering tentativeness of his early debate performances. But nothing happened that's likely to affect the campaign either way.

Brian Williams asked the intelligent questions, leaving Sweaty Tim Russert to play "Gotcha", as if this were a special weekday edition of Press the Meat. Clinton chose to portray herself once again as a victim of favoritism towards her opponent. Perhaps she is; certainly the existence of Barack Obama as the kind of rock star we arguably haven't seen since the Beatles hit the U.S. in 1964 takes any wind out of the sails of being "the first viable woman candidate." I think she, understandably, figured she'd have the "groundbreaking" territory all to herself. But once faced with perhaps an even more groundbreaking candidate, especially one as charismatic as Obama, she has had no idea what to do. Perhaps there was nothing TO do, especially given the press' animosity towards All Things Clinton. But as Niall Stanage of the New York Observer notes in this post about an interview with Clinton loyalist and former White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta:
Mr. Panetta, who served as chief of staff in the White House from July 1994 to January 1997, and who has contributed $2000 to Mrs. Clinton’s presidential campaign, complained that Mr. Penn “is a political pollster from the past.”

”I never considered him someone who would run a national campaign for the presidency,” he said.

He asserted that Mr. Penn “comes from an old school, like Karl Rove—it’s all about dividing people into smaller groups rather than taking the broader approach that was needed.”

Referring to Barack Obama, he said, “I think he really captured early on this deep feeling in the country about needing change in Washington. And people have underestimated how deep that sense was, just how much people felt the need for change.”

Mr. Panetta added that “for the money they brought in” the Clinton campaign “should have done a much better job.”

On the now-deposed campaign manager Patti Solis Doyle, Mr. Panetta said, “Solis was someone who was obviously close to the [former] First Lady and had good relations with her, but again she didn’t have the experience that you need.”


Aside from his criticisms of specific people at the top of Mrs. Clinton’s team, he also asserted that the campaign in general had neither created an efficient ground operation nor shown tactical wisdom in its deployment of available resources.

“It seems to me like they rolled the dice on Super Tuesday, thinking that would end it,” he said. “And when it didn’t end it, they didn’t have a plan. And when it came to the caucus states, they did have a plan—which was to ignore them. I think those were serious mistakes.”


Asked about Mrs. Clinton’s closing statement at the Feb. 21 CNN debate in Austin, Texas, where she spoke of being “absolutely honored” to be sharing the stage with Mr. Obama and expressed concern for the nation’s future, Mr. Panetta said, “I think that was her strongest moment, and I would have recommended taking that kind of approach a long time ago. I think that idea of talking about the country and showing some emotion is much more effective.”

By contrast, Mr. Panetta was unimpressed by the former First Lady’s sharpest attack on Mr. Obama, in which she accused him of plagiarism and, in a mocking reference to his campaign slogan, asserted, “That’s change you can Xerox.”

“There should be much less of those kinds of moments,” he said.

It's difficult to imagine that someone as smart as Hillary Clinton would repeat the same mistakes Democrats have been making in presidential races for decades -- this kind of top-down, large-donor, pay-the-consultants-based-on-what-they-spend model that blows through money at an alarming clip and accomplishes very little. It appears that those running the Clinton campaign were so blinded by the defeat of Howard Dean's grassroots candidacy in 2004 by John Kerry's consultants and hacks that they forgot all about how that model may have gained Kerry the nomination, but didn't get him the White House.

What they didn't factor in was the growth and maturing of the grassroots model over the last four years.

The kids and novices and bloggers of the Dean candidacy are now far more savvy about Washington and the media and the existing horserace infrastructure surrounding this exercise we go through every four years. Since 2004, they've helped to elect Senators and Congresspeople. This winter bloggers have helped topple a corporatist Congressman whom Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer strongly supported, and now Donna Edwards is in all likelihood going to Congress in Maryland's 4th district.

The problem was never with building a war chest fifty bucks at a time and putting a bat up on your web site, it was sheer inexperience. Add to that maturity and experience a candidate to whom young voters relate, one who's intelligent, charismatic, and very much like the very same biracial people prevalent in their circles, and you have a campaign that may have to tap its donors multiple times, but that offers the kind of free foot soldiers that allow you to manage money more effectively. Mark Penn and Howard Wolfson can't BUY viral video like this.

Yes we can, indeed. I've been one of these true believers. I may never be one again because when what you believe in doesn't succeed, you want to take to your bed and never get up again. But you can't buy these true believers to work on your campaign. You can't buy your way into support like this. I'm not going to say you have to earn it; it's like catching lightning in a bottle. But when it happens, if you're the other side, you have to be able to do something other than mock those true believers.

This isn't over, not by a long shot. As Michael Winship notes over at Buzzflash, the Clintonistas are applying the strongarm not just to the superdelegates, but to the elected ones as well:

Even if she's defeated soundly in Ohio and Texas, she's counting on yet another kind of firewall, and therein lays a potential danger that could jeopardize the Democrats' chances at taking back the White House and increasing its majorities in Congress.

The way events continue to evolve, to get the delegates either candidate needs for the nomination, Clinton or Obama must receive the votes of a large number of the party's superdelegates -- 795 men and women who will be at the August convention in Denver not because they were chosen via the primary or caucus system, but because they hold office in government or the Democratic Party.

Clinton strategists see the superdelegates as a final firewall, believing many of the superdelegates -- even some committed to Obama -- are susceptible to persuasion. After all, many of them owe their positions to the largesse of the Bill Clinton presidency. Pressure would be brought to bear.

But cash talks, too. According to a new report from the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics, "While it would be unseemly for the candidates to hand out thousands of dollars to primary voters, or to the delegates pledged to represent the will of those voters, elected officials who are superdelegates have received at least $904,200 from Obama and Clinton in the form of campaign contributions over the last three years...

"Obama, who narrowly leads in the count of pledged, 'non-super' delegates, has doled out more than $698,200 to superdelegates from his political action committee or campaign committee since 2005... [Hillary Clinton's] PAC, and campaign committee appear to have distributed $205,500 to superdelegates...

"In cases where superdelegates had received contributions from both Clinton and Obama, all seven elected officials who received more money from Clinton have committed to her. Thirty-four of the 43 superdelegates who received more money from Obama, or 79 percent, are backing him."

Yet many believe that back rooms filled with smoke and dollar-laden powerbrokers won't be a decisive factor. "If you're going to use your best judgment," Congressman and Superdelegate Charles Rangel told the New York Daily News, "you've got to take into consideration what your constituents are saying," and endorse whoever has the most primary and caucus delegates.

Democratic primary voters agree. According to Tuesday's New York Times/CBS News poll, more than half said superdelegates should vote for whoever receives the most votes in the caucuses and primaries.

But superdelegates aren't the only targets. Senator Clinton also is trying to get the party to recognize delegates she won in Florida and Michigan -- even though both states' delegations have been disqualified because their primaries were held early, in violation of party rules. The Democratic National Committee's credentials committee, which will make a ruling, is evenly divided between Clinton and Obama supporters, but as the Washington Times recently reported, "At first blush... [it] looks like it could be in Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's hip pocket. Its three chairmen served in Bill Clinton's administration."

What's more, although the Clinton campaign denies it, according to Politico.com columnist Roger Simon, writing on February 19, "Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign intends to go after delegates whom Barack Obama has already won in the caucuses and primaries if she needs them to win the nomination...

"This time, one candidate may enter the convention leading by just a few pledged delegates, and those delegates may find themselves being promised the sun, moon and stars to switch sides."

Clinton does this at her peril, because you simply Do Not Fuck With True Believers. Most of us who supported Howard Dean made the decision to be good soldiers as we held our noses and voted for John Kerry in 2004, even though we knew he and Dick Gephardt had double-teamed our guy in Iowa. But do you think that those tens of thousands of people in each and every city in which Obama appears are going to be good soldiers and vote for Hillary Clinton if she uses her connections and influence to steal the nomination from a Barack Obama who goes into the convention with more delegates?

It's possible to win the battle and lose the war. And if Hillary Clinton does this, she WILL lose in November, because there's going to be no being a good soldier for someone who thwarts the will of the people like this.

For decades, young voters have been apathetic because they felt their vote didn't matter; that their voice didn't matter. But while Obama's support isn't as completely youth-based as either the media or young voters themselves want to believe, they are the ones who are most involved this time, if only because they're the ones who have the luxury of time. And that's how it should be. But if you nominate a candidate who, fairly or not, represents a generation that was at one time synonymous with change, and that candidate uses hack tactics to gain this nomination, you will show all of these newly-involved voters that the cynics were right -- that it's all bullshit and they have no voice.

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Blogger pjs said...
Oh, not to worry; I think it's pretty much over. It'll be up to Obama to disillusion the young folks now.

Although, it's a long way to November, and I wouldn't count Maverick McCain out. Not as long as the Tweetys and Timmuhs are out there.

Blogger Bob said...
I think Clinton has in it in her to quit. She may want something to do it, I don't know what. She had the wrong strategy, but in terms of how money is spent, Obama's campaign is not radically different. The most apt explanation I've read is that Hillary designed an incumbency campaign in an insurgency year - she ran as if she was running for reelection. Why she did it is a good question, given the signs in the 2006 midterms.