How Clinton Can Still Win

MEMO TO:    Hillary Clinton & campaign staff

SUBJECT:    How Clinton Can Still Win

The nominating process is far from over. While Clinton will be challenged to score primary victories and catch up in pledged delegates, she need not have the most of either to secure the nomination. So long as she wins without destroying credibility or good will in the process, she can win the nomination while enjoying the support of a strong and unified party.

So how does she do it? How does she rack up some convincing primary wins, roll up a few pledged delegates, while convincing the super delegates to back her?

And here's the real question: how does she convince the party as a whole -- including those who have already voted and even current Obama supporters -- that she really is the best candidate for us in November?

Can Barack Obama's momentum be stopped?

Increasingly, many people -- especially independent voters -- have bought in to Obama's message of hope, reconciliation, and his inclusive approach to policymaking. Obama's rise is it not attributable to media bias, nor is it because his followers are feeble-minded lemmings. He has placed himself at the center of a legitimate phenomenon that engages each of us in ways that restore our self-confidence and faith in government.  

His message succeeds so well precisely because he has so effectively tied it to our emotions of national unity and identity. Obama's rhetoric, far from being a laundry list of policy specifics, links key chapters of revered history into a coherent movement which progresses only through hope, idealism and considerable effort. Conveniently, and ingeniously, Obama places us at its forefront, calling each of us to action to join history by tackling today's chapter.

That's pretty powerful stuff. Also tough to beat if your antidote consists of trying to convince people that the hope they feel is somehow inauthentic.

In short, Obama has successfully positioned himself as a more effective leader. He has done it by demonstrating it. He has built a movement with himself at its head, while endowing each supporter with a sense of stake in its vision and mission of change. That is what leaders do.

In this paradigm, Democratic voters and delegates are asked to choose a nominee on the basis of, Who is the best leader? On that basis, Obama wins over Clinton, hands down. He changed the game, trumping her initial strategy of being a powerful and inevitable nominee.

So how can Clinton still beat him?

The trick is to change the game again, to change the paradigm away from one that asks Democrats to select the best leader to one that asks Democrats to select the best politician. Now that is a contest Senator Clinton wins. If we Democrats believe the best nominee is the one with superior street-fighting skills, we will pick her. If we are asked to truly consider the qualifications for office, or which policy proposals are superior, we will pick her. So the trick is to deflate Obamania, and to do so without undermining Democratic enthusiasm or causing bitter divisions. So, how does she do it?

Curiously, this has been her exact goal. Clinton came fairly close to deflating Obamania following Iowa and New Hampshire. Her furious attacks pulled Obama off his pedestal and dragged him back down to the dirtier air of politics as usual. She has also scored points when she draws contrasts in their health care proposals.

Her tactics did something she must now do again: she forced Obama to respond politically, thus revealing himself to be a mere politician, just like her.  Aside from his visible frustration, her attacks forced him off message. And once off track, he surrendered his most potent weapon; his ability to weave an enticing vision. He was unable to retain the good feeling engendered from his Iowa speech, and he was unable to build new momentum for his movement. A virulent response to her attacks, instead of a high-road dismissal that reinforced his positive vision, was meant to demonstrate his will to fight. But it also reduced him to being a politician. Moody, surly, and not so far above petty fights. This is how she will succeed. Pull him down from his rarified air back into reality.

But Clinton should not go negative.

Simple attacks against him have not and will not succeed.  As the outcome of the South Carolina primary suggests, negative attacks back-fire. The key for her is to create circumstances by which Obama himself reduces his quest for the presidency to a set of street fights, thus revealing his quest to be rooted in ambition, competitive instincts, and other very human frailties. Such a revelation converts the judgment voters are asked to render from one of leadership to instead one of judging political skills. But this requires an aggressive attack against Obama that is neither negative, nor undermines voter enthusiasm.

Instead, go aggressively positive. She should show herself to be a better leader by being a better leader.

Clinton should aggressively promote a substantive and far-reaching vision on key policy topics that, by virtue of heft and solidity, highlight the stark contrast with Obama's lack of substance and/or experience.  For example, Clinton should unveil a comprehensive green plan with attainable goals, and one that challenges American society to achieve a green vision for the planet. Aside from its environmental benefits, such a plan would provide a basis for restoring America's leadership, etc.  

Further, she should do the same with an economic plan. One that outlines a vision of what America should be while offering a shrewd analysis of where we are and how we got here. Such an address would capture the immediate attention of voters now digesting increasingly bad economic news, while providing the opportunity to inspire people around notions of fairness, equality, and opportunity.

Finally, she should give a major address on foreign policy. Such an address would not be another set of Iraq talking points or muddled troop withdrawal discussions, but would comprise a comprehensive and frank conversation of what America should be in the world. This is an opportunity to re-articulate what true democratic leadership means to the world, why we are still vital, and how we can restore our standing. It would show her to have far-reaching vision and command of subjects around foreign affairs and military security, where surely she is stronger.

The trick for any of these is not to weigh down voters with a list of specifics, but to outline a vision that excites people, and increases their confidence in her. In short, she should be presidential. Demonstrate to the rest of us that you know how to lead, you have a vision for the country that inspires us, and show us you have the skills to accomplish your agenda.

Doing so would have four effects that would turn her campaign around.

First, it would demonstrate leadership. As my high school English teacher used to say, "Show, don't tell." She needs to do the same. Her central message that she's "ready from day one" is a valid contrast with Obama.  But it has fails to persuade voters in the current paradigm precisely because it rings as a hollow attack. She needs to instead demonstrate her superior leadership. A set of major policy addresses, followed by its aggressive promotion on the campaign trail would restore a sense of command we've found missing from her campaign lately.

Second, it would generate enthusiasm among voters.  While Obama offers a movement, a sense of history we can change, Clinton needs to counter-act that with a similar band-wagon we can support. The major addresses provides the substance voters would be asked to consider, a mandate that they would be asked to provide via their support. Such substance would also provide the bridge by which Obama supporters could allow themselves to defect to Clinton, in essence choosing their heads over their hearts.

Third, a robust discussion of policy would force Obama to respond. Clinton supporters claim Obama lacks substance. If this is so, than major addresses combined with aggressive follow-up on the campaign trail should reveal Obama's shortcomings.  He would be forced to respond in kind, with discussion of his own policy proposals. He would appear as a copy-cat, and the superiority of Clinton's policy proposals would weigh heavily on voters' eventual choices.

Finally, forcing Obama to respond changes the conversation, away from his message, and takes the campaign narrative to a different location. Obama would be forced to react to her, on stronger ground more suited to her experience (policy) and in a form of engagement (i.e., candidate versus candidate debate) more desirable to her. Voters would perceive both her political and policy strengths as she hammers the differences in each and every campaign occasion. Forced to react and react again, his message would starve. Her earlier attacks on him brought out a petty, tit-for-tat irritability in Obama that many of his supporters - myself included - found unattractive. We despised her tactics, but they were effective.

So what do you think?

Tags: Barack Obama, Debate, Democratic nomination, Hillary Clinton (all tags)



I don't understand

how you can say this:

"If we Democrats believe the best nominee is the one with superior street-fighting skills, we will pick her."

Based on what?  She is currently being BEATEN in a fight by a lesser opponent.  She has never faced a serious challenger before, and she is running a horrible campaign at this time.  

Where do you guys get this stuff?

by Cycloptichorn 2008-02-13 09:04AM | 0 recs
Re: I don't understand

She is not being beaten in a street fight, she is being beaten in a contest over who has more effectively inspired us. In that contest, Obama wins.

by wolff109 2008-02-13 09:33AM | 0 recs

The only serious Republican Obama has ever faced is Alan Keyes so GMAB. As for Hillary she has had the entire media against her as well as sexist white men who are voting for Obama now but will switch to McCain in the general. I think sexism is the lost variable in the race.

by rossinatl 2008-02-13 09:07AM | 0 recs
yep, the game in chicago is beating democrats...

there aren't republicans worth speaking of in illinois who can (atm) seriously challenge a democratic candidate.

the belief that beating republicans is harder than beating machine democrats in an intensely competitive environment probably needs to be justified, as well as (perhaps) the assumption that chicago politics is easy breezy...

by bored now 2008-02-13 09:42AM | 0 recs

Obama, has the wait of the eledery vote who hate black people aligned against him (there's a reason aobama support decreases with age), seriously if you're going to play the sexist white men card this is a substantive response.

by Socraticsilence 2008-02-13 03:16PM | 0 recs
Re: How Clinton Can Still Win

It is not that Obama lacks street-fighting skills, it's that a street-fight favors Clinton.

And if we voters are asked to choose between the two based on a street-fight, I think we'd go with Clinton more so than Obama.

Democrats generally perceive Clinton to be the superior street-fighter based on that fact that we've see time and time again that she is best when in direct combat. She's tough; give her that much.

As for Obama, we've seen that his strength is articulating lofty vision, which suggests he would be undermined if brought down to the level of a petty fight. He could still prove me wrong.

by wolff109 2008-02-13 09:32AM | 0 recs
Re: How Clinton Can Still Win

Clinton is stuck in 1996.

Its 2008.

I don't want a 'Back to the Future' candidate, I want someone new. You'll have to excuse me if 30 years of the same two families (whom share a buddy-buddy relationship) running the country doesn't sit well with me.

I'd rather take the 'risk' of betting on someone that offers vision for America rather than divisive calculation, and a continuation of Us vs. Them politics. I 'm sick of hating Republicans, I'm tired of the division, Its time to focus on all the things we have in common.

Her campaign has been run on assumptions and rewarding loyalty rather than reaching out and expanding the Democratic base. The glass jaw platform of inevitability has been shattered, and she doesn't know how to adapt. Rigid approaches are brittle.

Its not about sexism, fer crissakes, Most of the Obama people I know are women. Can you explain how women are being sexist towards women?

She may still win it, but it will HAVE to be by pulling FL and MI into the mix, and prodding Super Delegates her way. Both of which seriously diminish her legitimacy as a General Election candidate.

by MGarvey 2008-02-13 09:39AM | 0 recs
Re: How Clinton Can Still Win

I agree with your critical assessment of the Clinton campaign thus far. You articulate some key reasons why many Democrats rejected her in the first place.

My point was that she still has the opportunity to show us a positive vision, one superior to Obama's regarding a substantive policy agenda, and one that more effectively demonstrates her leadership.

I don't know if she will, however.

by wolff109 2008-02-13 09:42AM | 0 recs
Re: How Clinton Can Still Win

I think you did a great job of laying out her predicament and what she could do to stem the tide. It was well written.

I just don't know if she reads this blog.

Clinton (10)

Arkansas +43
Oklahoma +24
New York +17
Massachusetts +15
Tennessee +13
California +10
New Jersey +10
Arizona +9
Nevada +6
New Hampshire +3

Obama (22)

Idaho +62
DC +51
Alaska +50
Kansas +48
Washington +37
Georgia +36
Nebraska +36
Colorado +35
Minnesota +35
South Carolina +32
Virginia +29
North Dakota +24
Maryland +23
Louisiana +21
Maine +19
Utah +18
Alabama +14
Delaware +10
Iowa +9
Connecticut +4
Missouri +1

She has 4 states above 15 pts.

Obama has 17 states above 15 pts.

Thats a big difference.

by MGarvey 2008-02-13 10:00AM | 0 recs
Re: How Clinton Can Still Win

Thank you.

Do you think the difference in cumulative votes and pledged delegates will be sufficiently great to guarantee Obama the nomination?

I still think Clinton has an opportunity to make a case, and if the case is strong, and if her total cumulative votes and delegates remains within striking difference, she could still be the nominee.

by wolff109 2008-02-13 10:32AM | 0 recs
Part of the way there

I am writing something along these lines.

She cannot go negative: she is behind and the obvious response is that she is getting desperate.

She cannot try and win either on the basis of super-delegates or on the margin in Michigan and Florida.  Either tactic will split the party and make it impossible for her to win in November.

In my view she has one card to play: experience in helping the country respond to economic change.

Her current frame, "ready on day one" cannot work because it is undermined by her vote on the Iraq War.  It is easy for Obama to neutralize the charge.

A better frame is to talk about the economic change and how her husband and her helped guide the country out of the recession in '92.  It would highlight that this is not the same situation as in '92, but that the experience is transfereable and makes her uniquely qualified to take on what will be the mounting economic difficulties.   Obama has no easy answer to this frame (except for attacking NAFTA).

The biggest surprise of this primary season is the ineptitude of the Clinton Campaign.  It got lucky in New Hampshire, but has been consistenty out organized and outthought by the Obama campaign.  With her national numbers close to crashing (Rassmussen has her down 5 today) she has lost any margin for error.  While I think the situation is reversable, time is definately not on her side.

by fladem 2008-02-13 09:56AM | 0 recs
Re: Part of the way there

Excellent point regarding the Clinton organization. I think their top-down approach has been less responsive to the needs on the ground compared to the Obama camp, which appears to be far more bottom-up.

by wolff109 2008-02-13 10:29AM | 0 recs
Re: How Clinton Can Still Win

My husband and I were talking about "the road to the White House" again today, and he suggested looking up the numbers on the good, ol' electoral college.  Because, with his political science and voting behavior PhD (he doesn't brag, but I do listen to his political numbers comments when he is serious, as he definitely was here), he wanted to point out yet again how key certain states are.  The electors in the states of Arizona, Arkansas, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Tennessee, California, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Mexico and Oklahoma add up to 161 electoral college votes.  That is a fair chunk of the 270 needed for the Presidency.  Going back to 1992, a fairly recent time in US election history and somewhat significant here, my memory says that only Ariz., Okla., and (maybe) Nev. were in the Republican column--and, for now, both Nevada and, possibly Arizona, are well within Democratic reach.  Now, look at Michigan and Florida--the former a traditional Democratic state and the latter could very well be within our ranks this time--have a combined 44 votes to add.  Then, look at the real importance of Ohio (20), Texas (34) and Pennsylvania (21)--which add another 75 electoral votes for the November winner. Because Pennsylvania has been in the Democratic column, Ohio is very close to D (especially with their recent Taft et al history and economic situation there), and Texas (which used to be D and, with Hillary, has a strong Latino base as well)...well, it is easy to see why that trio matters or should matter a lot to party officials.  The total: 280 (10 over).  In the case before us, the obvious back-up states in November for this equation would be Missouri--agreat swing state and very close to tied Feb 5th primaries; Barack Obama's home of Illinois--which, as a traditional Democratic state,would go for whoever our nominee is and Connecticut, another traditional Democratic state.  Thats a long line of numbers, but it does demonstrate on the ultimate electoral map why certain states doget more attention and why a candidate's ability to pull votes in particular states can be quite important.  (Please know that this does not devalue other states, really, because things can play out in lots of ways.  It only shows that some paths in November--when group components will be a different calculus in each state--may be viewed as less difficult.)  Thanks

by christinep 2008-02-13 10:18AM | 0 recs
Re: How Clinton Can Still Win

I think there are definitely some key states that will be blue and red, regardless of what happens, just based on partisanship within htose states.

But I believe both candidates still have the opportunity to prove to us which one has a better shot at swing states. Neither has yet convinced me, but Obama has made a strong case with his ability to attract independents.

by wolff109 2008-02-13 10:35AM | 0 recs
Re: How Clinton Can Still Win

The question is whether the independents--notorious fickle--will begin to find McCain attractive as a father figure, sage/wise, likeable or whether McCain is seen in a fit of pique.  I would caution about the the 30-45 year old white males--they could quite easily swing to McCain. (Check his demographics.) And, in the process, if women of a certain age--like myself and my friends--who have supported with money & energy the Democratic party--continue to feel from the Obama group that they are passe, etc., well.... Consider also that the percentage of a voting group in the Democratic Party can and will look quite different in a given state in the general election.  The point: Don't bet the farm on the Independents.

by christinep 2008-02-13 11:00AM | 0 recs
Re: How Clinton Can Still Win

My sentiments exactly!!  McCain draws the independents too, so you can't really predict what percentage Obama will be able to draw if he's the nominee.  When comparing the "experience" of them both, I expect many independents will opt for the Maverick.

I too have supported with money & energy the Democratic party most of my 45 years (helped my mom on Jimmy Carter's campaign and was invited to his inauguration), but Obama's mistaken and a little too cocky if he takes my vote for granted.  He'll have to earn it and so far, he hasn't.

by cplummer 2008-02-13 11:37AM | 0 recs
Re: How Clinton Can Still Win

Maybe so, but the problem for Hillary is that she will have a tough time convincing anyone that she will exceed Obama's independent draw, gven that she has failed to do so in head-to-head competition.

by wolff109 2008-02-13 11:40AM | 0 recs
Re: How Clinton Can Still Win

The question is whether the independents--notorious fickle--will begin to find McCain attractive as a father figure, sage/wise, likeable or whether McCain is seen in a fit of pique.  I would caution about the the 30-45 year old white males--they could quite easily swing to McCain. (Check his demographics.) And, in the process, if women of a certain age--like myself and my friends--who have supported with money & energy the Democratic party--continue to feel from the Obama group that they are passe, etc., well.... Consider also that the percentage of a voting group in the Democratic Party can and will look quite different in a given state in the general election.  The point: Don't bet the farm on the Independents.

by christinep 2008-02-13 11:02AM | 0 recs
Re: How Clinton Can Still Win

The eventual nominee must be able to attract independent voters. But your point is well taken.
The nominee must be able to hold the base of the party together, of which women are a key constituency.

I would hope Obama does some serious outreach to women like you, should he be the nominee, just as Clinton will need to reach out to Obamaniacs, should she be the nominee.

Neither shouldn't overly emphasize a strategy to gain independent voters at the expense of a dedicated base. But the fact is, the winner of any national election is the one who attracts the most independent voters WHILE holding their base.

by wolff109 2008-02-13 11:38AM | 0 recs
Re: How Clinton Can Still Win

Seems to me that Hillary Clinton may be under attack on two fronts: sexism and sentiments of anti-Clinton, which is unfortunate if one is a Democrat 'cause the Republicans would like nothing more than to run McCain against Obama in the general election. One can almost see the writing on the wall: American War Hero versus one term Senator, who, by his own admission, will travel to Cuba to meet with Communist Dictator Fidel Castro...

by BayofPigs 2008-02-13 05:31PM | 0 recs


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