here comes hillary

Posted on February 15, 2008

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Maybe that campaign leadership shake-up in Hillary Clinton’s bid to be the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee can turn out to be a good thing after all, although it is still a little too early to tell if it would pull Clinton from the brink of defeat.

It is clear that the Clinton campaign has been truly spooked by Barack Obama’s recent streak of victories and wised up to an important fact – that if Clinton were to get the nomination, she has to compete everywhere, not just in traditional blue states, and to do the campaigning of her life.

In a shift in strategy, the Clinton campaign has decided to get more aggressive in states that were earlier deemed unwinnable for its candidate. And it is making a bold statement by starting in Hawaii, the state where Obama grew up, by sending Clinton’s daughter Chelsea to stump on her mother’s behalf.

It might not be the candidate herself, but Chelsea has proved to be an effective weapon for her mother. Staffers told CNN that the Chelsea effect was apparent in California, where she campaigned rigorously with Clinton and helped her win the youth vote – a first for Clinton. Another district in Nebraska that experienced her charm offensive was also won over, pulling overwhelmingly for the New York Senator.

The campaign has also finally woken up to the efficacy of Obama’s campaign organizational and is not taking any more chances. It is hiring staff and setting up office in states that it has hitherto overlooked, such as Montana and Wyoming. That certainly is taking their opponent seriously and making every vote and every delegate count.

It is about time they got a grip on how dangerous and serious an opponent Obama is. The Clinton campaign has completely underestimated the strength of the Obama campaign’s organizational breadth and depth. It was totally blind-sided by the power of the Obama campaign to mobilize staff and volunteers to fan out and get people out to vote. Looks like the myth of the “Clinton machinery” has been shattered in the course of this campaign.

It has also overlooked the appeal that Obama’s message has, thin on substance it might be. To quote Republican candidate Mike Huckabee, “The American people are not looking for someone who can fix a carburetor. They’re looking for someone who can drive the car.” Clinton now has to convince many that not only can she fix the carburetor, she can also drive the car.

The question is, is it too little, too late for Clinton?

It is never wise to underestimate the grit Clinton has nor the intensity of loyalty she has among her supporters.

The personnel and strategic changes to her campaign are a sign that she recognizes that mistakes and miscalculations were made and something had to be done to stem the bleeding and get back on track. In business school, that would be recognized as a sign of leadership – the ability to see that something is not working and taking measures to correct the problems.

Let’s hope Clinton and her campaign staffers have learned that they cannot take anything for granted. While it is true that concentrating on big states where the Democrats are most likely to win in the general election has its merits, it is foolish to forget that it first has to get the right to compete in the general election.

Hubris was definitely a factor behind the Clinton campaign faltering in recent weeks. It had only planned and budgeted up till Super Tuesday, when it assumed the Democratic nomination would be locked up and its candidate far ahead in delegate count. By underestimating the Obama phenomenon and prowess, it suffered heavy defeats in the races post-Super Tuesday, lagging in rolling out advertisements or having boots on the ground to talk to voters about Clinton’s policies and plans and winning them over.

Polls might no longer have the power they previously had, given how many times they have been so far off the mark this election. But they could still boost morale in Clinton’s camp. A Quinnipiac University poll released today showed that she has a double-digit lead over Obama in Ohio and Pennsylvania, crucial firewall states for Clinton’s campaign. It now has to capitalize on those positive feelings and start sweating to secure every single one of those votes to ensure a strong win for Clinton and stay alive in the fight.

Clinton has been written off for dead many times. The latest setbacks should hopefully serve as just temporary dampeners and spur the candidate and her campaign to learn from their mistakes and work even harder and smarter to win the remaining states. If it survives this tough primary election season, it should be in good stead for the general election.

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