Thursday, February 21, 2008

How Hillary lost her sure bet

By Libby

Apparently I'm not the only one who lays the blame for Hillary's downfall on bad advice from Mark Penn.
Before the Iowa caucuses, senior aides to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton fell into a heated argument during a 7:30 a.m. conference call about the basic message their candidate was delivering to voters.

Mark Penn, chief strategist and pollster, liked Clinton's emphasis on her "strength and experience," and he defended the idea of her running as a quasi-incumbent best suited for the presidency. Harold Ickes and other advisors said that message was not working. A more promising strategy, they argued, would be to focus on the historic prospect of electing the first woman president.
It's obvious who won that argument and Penn's continued influence on the campaign is certainly one very big reason I've had with supporting Clinton.
As they look for where the campaign went wrong, some people knowledgeable about it said that Hillary Clinton bore responsibility because she did not heed calls to limit the overarching power Penn wielded within the brain trust as both its pollster and message- maker.
Penn's talent, the person said, "is not recognizing the human aspects of a candidate or a campaign -- the soul of it. He's very much by the numbers and by the issues, and what tests well and what doesn't test well."
If we're to judge her future adminstration by the manner in which she ran her campaign, this raises serious doubts in my mind about her judgement and her adaptability. Penn came through for her in 2000 using the same tactics but neither recognized the change in the public temperment, nor do they seem to have noticed that polls and focus group tested strategies have consistently failed in this cycle.

Meanwhile, Capt Ed says that Clinton's experience argument failed because neither candidate has an impressive record of accomplishment. Perhaps he's forgotten that the entire Senate has done virtually nothing of great consequence in seven years except rubber stamp the White House agenda. To the extent that either candidate can be judged by their record there, it's difficult to base it on much more than who voted to rein in the GOP the most. On that score, Clinton loses. Obama has a better voting record.

Ed also gives a lot of weight to identity politics, speculating that race trumped gender somehow in the people's preference for a historic first. I think he's wrong about that. Much as Obama's message of hope and change is derided by his opponents and the 'serious' punditry, that is exactly what resonated with the voters. I don't think they care so much about firsts, they care about finding a leader they can trust. Obama was astute enough to recognize this and his campaign was nimble enough to respond with a strategy and sloganery that offered something new. In contrast, Clinton looks like a relic lecturing us about how the old ways are best.

In the end Obama simply plays the game better. He trumped Hillary's inevitability card with a charisma ace. It may be time for Clinton to realize you just can't beat the guy who holds the better hand, no matter how many cards you pull out of your sleeve.

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