Hillary Rodham Clinton took wrong turn on message, advisers

By A. James Memmott

June 4, 2008 at 4:13pm

The second guessing has begun in earnest.

With Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois having locked up the Democratic presidential nomination, analysts are already working hard to figure out not so much how he won, but how New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton lost.

Jackie Calmes of The Wall Street Journal and Rick Klein of ABC News have rolled out detailed look-backs at the 17-month Clinton campaign and pinpointed several factors that took Clinton from odds-on favorite to second-place finisher.

In brief, Clinton may have depended upon too small a group of advisers, a group that may have been too confident in the beginning and too grounded in old politics.

Beyond that, it may have wasted Clinton’s main strength, her ground-breaking appeal as a woman running for what has forever been a man’s job.

One of the Clinton’s main problems, Calmes suggests, was her “inner circle of two,” her husband, former President Bill Clinton, and her pollster and chief strategist, Mark Penn.

“Once known for his sunny optimism, Mr. Clinton became a finger-wagging scourge against media bias and Sen. Obama,” Calmes writes.

Bill Clinton’s made-for-You Tube moments, proved to be a distraction that raised a key issue.

“If she can’t control her husband in the campaign, who the h— is really going to run the White House,” an adviser asked.

Penn was reportedly a different kind of problem, numbers obsessed, but awkward with people, someone who seemed to underestimate the fact that voters wanted a change.

Clinton was an ideal change candidate as she sought to become the first woman president, Klein and Calmes write.

However, she ran as the candidate of experience, stressing her many years of preparation for the presidency. Following Penn’s advice, she played down her softer side. “Being human is overrated,” Penn allegedly said.

Penn and Clinton’ other advisers also helped shape a strategy that backfired.

The Clinton camp didn’t organize fully for the caucus states, believing that the senator would secure the nomination with the votes in big, non-caucus states. Obama’s strategists, on the other hand, put a full-court press on the caucuses and significantly added to their delegate count.

Eventually, Penn was let go from his campaign leadership position because of day job as a lobbyist. But he remained in contact with the Clintons, and the campaign still reportedly owes him $10 million for his polling.

And speaking of money: As Klein reports, Clinton’s campaign got off to a better fund-raising start, rounding up the usual donors and getting them and their friends to write $2,300 checks (the maximum contribution for a primary).

But eventually, that group got tapped out. The Obama campaign caught up and then went past the Clinton campaign, depending on an ever-growing base of small donors.

Money, momentum and message had all turned Obama’s way and Clinton could not stop the tide. “The bottom line is this,” Calmes writes, fixing the last bit of blame. “Sen. Clinton called the biggest plays, and she got them wrong.”

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