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Penn/McAuliffe/Wolfson Idiocies

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Grandson of a Millworker?

[I]t is inadequate to say to the people who believed in me that I am sorry…I started to believe that I was special and became increasingly egocentric and narcissistic. If you want to beat me up — feel free. You cannot beat me up more than I have already beaten up myself.So…Edwards. To be honest, I can’t say I’m surprised by this revelation — When the story first broke back in December, it just seem too detailed to be completely implausible, and I figured it was only a matter of time before the Enquirer closed the deal.

That being said, it seems clear we Dems clearly dodged a bullet by not backing Edwards’ candidacy, and he really shouldn’t have played roulette with us by trying to keep this under wraps. (Then again, diehard Clinton flak Howard Wolfson seems to think Edwards’ silence gave the nomination to Obama, which may or may not be true, so maybe he had an important part to play nonetheless.) I don’t think revelations of an affair would’ve necessarily been a ticket-killer this year, particularly given the shadier turns of McCain’s personal life. But it would’ve put us at an enormous disadvantage out of the box, honesty and character-wise, for no good reason whatsoever. (And, by the way, amiable southern white male narcissist who can’t keep it in his pants? Been there, done that.)

Underneath the Bunker.

In the bunker there exists a different reality. In the bunker, Hillary is the winner: of the popular vote, of a series of big swing states, of the authentic American vote. In the bunker, Hillary is introduced by the indefatiguable Terry McAuliffe as ‘the next President of the United States!’ When asked about the reality outside the bunker — that Obama supporters were in a minor rage over Hillary’s speech — McAuliffe looked at me incredulously. ‘Tonight was Hillary’s night!’ he exclaimed. ‘We won tonight! We won in South Dakota! We keep winning!‘”

Sigh. Or, put another way via R.E.M.’s Life’s Rich Pageant: “I will hide and you will hide, and we shall hide together here. Underneath the bunkers in the row. I have water, I have rum. Wait for dawn and dawn shall come, Underneath the bunkers in the row.

Also, on McAuliffe’s point about it being “Hillary’s night,” see Jeffrey Toobin on CNN yesterday, referring to “the deranged narcissism of the Clintons.” They really don’t make it easy to cut them a break.

Update: The endgame is now Saturday: “Clinton will host an event in Washington on Saturday ‘to thank her supporters and express her support for Senator Obama and party unity,’ according to Howard Wolfson, who did not explicitly state that Clinton is dropping out of the race. But other campaign officials said the event will coincide with her departure, despite her earlier reservations about stepping aside.” Well, better late than never.

The End is Nigh? | Being Hillary Clinton.

“‘I want to say also that this may be the last day I’m ever involved in a campaign of this kind,’ the former president told Clinton supporters in South Dakota, ABC and NBC reported on their news websites. ‘I thought I was out of politics, till Hillary decided to run. But it has been one of the greatest honors of my life to go around and campaign for her for president,’ he added at the start of his stump speech.” There’ve been rumors floating around about Sen. Clinton’s speech in New York tomorrow, but has Bill let the cat out of the bag? One can only hope.

Update: Sigh…A Clinton spokesperson categorically denies an imminent exit tomorrow. In related news, New York Magazine’s John Heilemann and The Atlantic‘s James Fallows ponder what Sen. Clinton is thinking these days. Heilemann: “[M]y response is simple: She wants to be president. Duh. And if it ain’t gonna happen this year, then her central objective is to make it as likely as possible in 2012.” Fallows: “The Clinton team doesn’t worry about hurting Obama’s prospects of winning in the fall, because they assess those prospects at zero. Always have…So by definition they can’t be making things worse. It is like sticking pins into a corpse — you’re not really hurting it any more. And if these efforts in fact make Obama’s victory less likely — well, then, reality will conform to their preexisting view.

Update 2: Word this morning is Sen. Clinton will in fact concede (sort of) tonight. “The former first lady will stop short of formally suspending or ending her race in her speech in New York City…But for all intents and purposes, the two senior officials said, the campaign is over.Update 3: McAuliffe says not so. Get it together over there, y’all.

Update 4: Well, for once McAuliffe was right — You can’t call that a concession. Sen. Clinton’s “un-concession” speech tonight in New York, delivered an hour after Sen. Obama had mathematically clinched the Democratic nomination, would’ve been stunning in its gracelessness, if it wasn’t so much in keeping with what we’ve seen all election season from her. Classy until the end.

The Big State Fallacy.

Yet for all of her primary night celebrations in the populous states, exit polling and independent political analysts offer evidence that Mr. Obama could do just as well as Mrs. Clinton among blocs of voters with whom he now runs behind.” Are the media finally going after the Clinton camp’s last, sad buttress? In tomorrow’s NYT, Patrick Healy pushes back against the dubious Clinton claim that she’ll run better in the “big states” based on the Ohio and Pennsylvania primaries. “According to surveys of Pennsylvania voters leaving the polls on Tuesday, Mr. Obama would draw majorities of support from lower-income voters and less-educated ones — just as Mrs. Clinton would against Mr. McCain, even though those voters have favored her over Mr. Obama in the primaries. And national polls suggest Mr. Obama would also do slightly better among groups that have gravitated to Republican in the past, like men, the more affluent and independents, while she would do slightly better among women.” In other words, when it comes to comparing primary and general election performance, we’re basically talking apples and oranges. (Just ask Al Gore.)

For his next trick, Penn disappears.

After the events of the last few days, Mark Penn has asked to give up his role as chief strategist of the Clinton campaign.” With Colombia-gate the straw that finally leveled the proverbial dromedary, Mark Penn is gone from Team Clinton. Better late than never, I suppose, but this would’ve been more helpful if done several months ago. And isn’t the captain supposed to go down with the ship?

Well, victory may have been a macrotrend that eluded Penn’s grasp. Still, if nothing else, we’ll always have his ridiculous post-mortem spin jobs. Of “Impressionable elites,” “insignificant states,” and useless primaries, at least one might be remembered someday as a 2008 campaign catch-phrase. Update: The Field also feels a Titanic motif.

Stepping Back for the Big Picture.

With a six-week lull between now and the next contest, during which I hope to spend more time focusing on Harold Ickes than on Harold Ickes (sorry, dissertation humor), now’s a good chance to buck Mark Penn and refocus on the macrotrends in the primary race right now:

For one, superdelegates are clearly trending towards Obama. “Among the 313 of 796 superdelegates who are members of Congress or governors, Clinton has commitments from 103 and Obama is backed by 96, according to lists supplied by the campaigns. Fifty-three of Obama’s endorsements have come since he won the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses, compared with 12 who have aligned with Clinton since then…[Since Ohio/Texas] the Illinois senator has won backing from nine superdelegates and Clinton one, according to the campaigns and interviews.” (Speaking of which, he picked up another one today in Wisconsin’s Melissa Schroeder. As you probably know, you can keep track of the supers over at DemConWatch.)

For another, whatever sound and fury Mark Penn tries to kick up about Pennsylvania and electability, it’s a tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing. In the most recent general election poll of the state, Obama still does better than Clinton against McCain there (although, thanks to all the recent negative press, McCain has moved ahead of both since this poll.) To his credit, Clinton supporter and Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, off-message once again, today conceded Obama can take PA over McCain. (And in any case, as Michael Dukakis can tell you, past primary performance is often not a valid predictor of future outcomes.)

Otherwise, Obama is up in the daily trackers, although those tend to be volatile. Most importantly, obviously, Sen. Obama enjoys a sizable, if not insurmountable, lead in pledged delegates, votes, and states, so we’re in very good shape, despite what ever sad butchering of reality emanates from Camp Clinton these days. So keep your chin up, y’all. If you got money, donate. If you got time, phonebank, write your supers, and/or get the message out. Let’s press this thing home.

By the way, while looking for a good Penn-Microtrends link above, I found this NYT book review that begins with an anecdote about the TV show Numb3rs: “‘There’s no way the bad guys can win,’ my son assures me each time we watch the show together. ‘They can’t do the math, Dad.’” Truer words have never been spoken.

Obama: Step off.

If I’m not ready, how is it that you think I should be such a great vice president?’ Mr. Obama said. ‘Do you understand that?’” Sen. Barack Obama probes an obvious fault line in the Clintons’ kitchen-sink attack. “‘With all due respect, I’ve won twice as many states as Senator Clinton,’ Mr. Obama said, speaking over the applause of nearly 2,000 people who rose from their seats. ‘I’ve won more of the popular vote than Senator Clinton. I have more delegates than Senator Clinton. So, I don’t know how somebody who’s in second place is offering the vice presidency to the person who’s in first place….I’m not running for vice president. I’m running for president of the United States of America.’” Well put. (See it here.)

For what it’s worth, Clinton goon Howard Wolfson tried to square the circle this morning with this gem: “We do not believe that Sen. Obama has passed the commander in chief test. But there is a long way between now and Denver.” Uh, that clearly doesn’t make a lick of sense. Why does the Clinton campaign continue to assume that we’re all morons? It’s infuriating.

The Wolf who cried Starr.

I for one do not believe that imitating Ken Starr is the way to win a Democratic primary election for president, but perhaps that theory will be tested.” A Starr is born? Clinton flunky Howard Wolfson makes the implicit explicit and directly likens Senator Obama to independent counsel and GOP bogeyman Ken Starr, suggesting that any criticism of the Clintons must be rooted in the “vast right-wing conspiracy.” Well, Wolfson, I don’t know Ken Starr personally. But, as fate would have it, I wrote the book on Ken Starr. And, news flash, Barack Obama is no Ken Starr. Y’see, I did copious research for And the Horse He Rode In On, and I discovered while doing so that Ken Starr, despite his self-righteous persona, was pretty much your run-of-the-mill hypocritical scumbag of a party hack. Now that doesn’t really describe Sen. Obama very well, but, as it turns out, that is exemplary shorthand for one Howard Wolfson.

Exhibit A: What prompted Wolfson’s “Ken Starr” smear today? That would be the Obama campaign’s call to have Senator Clinton release her tax returns for the past seven years, something she’s continually refused to do despite the fact that it would take all of five minutes to accomplish and is considered relatively standard in political campaigns at any level, let alone a race for the presidency. Now, let’s flashback to 2000 for a sec: Then, Clinton flunky Howard Wolfson was running around with a guy in an Uncle Sam suit demanding that GOP Senate candidate Rick Lazio…wait for it, wait for it…release his tax returns.

Their hypocrisy knows no limits.

24, 24 hours to go…

All that matters tomorrow – and we might not know the answer until later in the week – is which campaign advanced in delegates and which campaign did not, and by how much. That Clinton spokesman Wolfson is saying here that the Texas Caucuses don’t matter is your clearest indication that he thinks they’re going to get shellacked at ‘em. He’s already spinning them into ‘doesn’t-matterland’ before they’re even held. That’s because it is precisely the caucus results that will advance Obama to a greater lead among pledged delegates nationwide than he has today.” As the election season builds to a fever pitch in Ohio and Texas, Clinton sends out more attack ads, and the Clinton campaign begins trying to move the goalposts all over again to stay in the race after tomorrow night, Rural VotesAl Giordano puts things in perspective.

In the meantime, the polls — minus Zogby, who had Obama up 13 in California, and is thus someone I’m not putting much stock in at the moment — seem to suggest Clinton is pulling away in Ohio (although not by enough to really make a dent in the delegate situation.) Texas polls are more favorable to Obama, although at least one has Clinton pulling ahead there too. But, to be clear, despite these leads (which also don’t reflect the respective ground games), neither state shows anything like the margins Clinton needs to stay mathematically viable. Her campaign may continue wheezing and sputtering for several weeks yet, but — if these numbers hold up, even with Clinton wins — the race for all intent and purposes ends tomorrow…and not a moment too soon.

Recrimination Time.

With a week to go before climactic tests in Texas and Ohio, Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign team has slipped into full recriminations mode. Looking backward, interviews with a cross-section of campaign aides and sympathetic outsiders suggest a team consumed with frustration and finger-pointing about the apparent failure of several recent tactical moves against Barack Obama. Looking forward, it is clear Clinton’s team has only a faint and highly improvisational strategy about what to do over the next seven days. Simply put, there is no secret weapon.” Politico’s Mike Allen and John F. Harris offer another dismal window into what looks to be the final days in Camp Clinton.

In related news, Atlantic blogger Marc Ambinder — who, along with Politico’s Ben Smith and Salon’s Joan Walsh, has been one of the more obviously Clinton-leaning pundits in the paid blogosphere (nice work if you can get it) — pretty much gives up hope: “The ‘HRC can come back’ bandwagon is rolling through town, and I spent a long time yesterday contemplating whether to jump on board. But the platform on which her supporters stand right now seems more tenuous by the day…Advisers figure that a loss in Texas is as likely as a win in Ohio; a large number of staffers appear to be willing to quit en masse next Wednesday if there’s a split decision and Clinton gives notice that she intends to fight for another month.

Update: Former Chief of Staff and long-time Clinton loyalist Leon Panetta gives his own post-mortem for the campaign, and puts the blame squarely on Mark Penn: “‘[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.’

Drowning in the Mud.

So, since Thursday night’s seemingly valedictory moment, when it seemed Sen. Clinton might withdraw from the presidential contest with dignity intact, we’ve witnessed the ridiculous “shame on you” farce, her grotesquely unbecoming (and unpresidential) spate of unhinged sarcasm, further railing against Obama’s foreign policy (in part by comparing him to Dubya), some really desperate whining about the press coverage, and — arguably a new low — her staff’s apparent attempt to get the “closet Muslim” smear machine up and running again with the already-infamous Somali gear pic. (Here’s a quick summary of recent events.) Update: One of the more egregious spins of the day: Combining the biased-press and Somali-photo tacks, a Clinton aide is quoted as saying, ““Wouldn’t we be seeing this on the cover of every magazine if it were [Clinton]?” Uh, no, because there’s obviously no whispering campaign arguing that Sen. Clinton is secretly Muslim. Really, what kind of idiots do you take us for?

It can only make you wonder what the next eight days will bring, and how much lower the Clinton campaign can possibly sink. I understand that they’re desperate now (See also Clinton supporter Geraldine Ferraro all but begging supers to back HRC), but they’ve really gone beyond the pale. At this point, I’m less outraged than I am just disgusted by Sen. Clinton, Mark Penn, and co. The self-immolation of the Clinton legacy is almost complete, and any goodwill they might’ve once enjoyed in progressive circles is well past exhausted. Let’s just hope the trail of slime they leave on their path to the exit doesn’t prove fertile ground for the Republicans in the general.

Update: Sen. Obama personally responds to the Somali pic flap: “Everybody knows that whether it’s me or Senator Clinton, or Bill Clinton, that when you travel to other countries they ask you to try on traditional garb that you have been given as a gift. The notion that the Clinton campaign would be trying to circulate this as a negative on the same day that Senator Clinton was giving a speech about how we repair our relationships around the world is sad. We are going to try to stay focused on what will make a difference in our foreign policy, including bringing the war in Iraq to an honorable end.” He then proceeded to twist the knife: “The notion that they would try to use this to imply in some way that I’m foreign, I think is, you know, unfortunate…These are the kinds of political tricks and silliness you start seeing at the end of campaigns.

Update 2: The NYT surveys “what one Clinton aide called a ‘kitchen sink’ fusillade against Mr. Obama,” while the WP’s Dana Milbank reports on the efforts of the increasingly combative and bizarre Clinton spin room: “They are in the last throes, if you will…there was no mistaking a certain flailing, a lashing-out, as two Clinton advisers sat down for a bacon-and-eggs session yesterday at the St. Regis Hotel…[They offered] a fascinating tour of an alternate universe.”

Deep in the Heart of Texas.

In case you missed it, debate No. 19, held in Austin, TX, came and went this evening. (Transcript.) My quick take: Not all that much news made here, and, as a tie goes to the defender, that’s a win for Barack Obama.

The big question coming in tonight was whether, after losing eleven contests in a row, Sen. Clinton would go into relentless-attack-mode (as desired by Mark Penn) or instead try to reassert her positives and perhaps prepare for a dignified exit to the race (as advised by Mandy Grunwald.) Well, the answer turned out to be yes. The first forty-five minutes or so were civil, agreeable, and thoroughly stultifying, basically a duller continuation of the LA debate of three weeks ago. Then, in the middle going, Sen. Clinton began trying to score some points, for example, by (once again) calling Obama a plagiarist and saying the Senator represented “change you can xerox.” (That canned line backfired rather badly, and drew the only boos of the night. I hope this is because most people realize the plagiarism charge is absolutely moronic.)

For his part, Sen. Obama — looking ever more presidential, as is the frontrunner’s wont — took the high road, correctly calling such maneuvers part of the “silly season” of politics and keeping the conversation mostly about substantive differences, such, as, once again, the interminable mandate question. (He had a particularly good response to the “cult” charge: “The implication has been that the people who have been voting for me or involved in my campaign are somehow delusional…The thinking is that somehow they’re being duped…and that eventually they’re going to see the reality of things. I think they perceive the reality of what’s going on in Washington very clearly.” Touche.)

The moment that’s getting a lot of the buzz right now is Sen. Clinton’s closing statement, which (Xerox alert!) borrowed heavily from both John Edwards and Bill Clinton in 1992. (I actually don’t care at all about that, but if you’re going to throw around spurious claims of plagiarism, you’d best be careful about that glass house.) More troublingly, in her close Sen. Clinton explicitly invoked her surprisingly game-changing Reverse Muskie back in New Hampshire. (She began this particular lip-quavering moment by asking herself the same goofy question she got in the diner: “How do you do it?”)

Now, I don’t want to claim Sen. Clinton is a fraud, even if she’s seemed considerably less than “absolutely honored to be here with Barack Obama” over the past three weeks of scurrilious charges and no concession speeches. If anything, I agree with CNN’s Jeffrey Toobin, who was much less enthralled by the moment than that venerable Establishment Davos-boogier, David Gergen. I think she got genuinely choked up for exactly the same reasons as she did back in NH. With the writing on the wall for her candidacy, this was a valedictory moment of sorts. Fine, she’s earned it, and I applaud her for seemingly choosing, at least for a few moments, a graceful exit that will help bring the party back together. That being said, I wouldn’t get such a guilty twinge of Bernie Birnbaum-ish grandstanding about it all if she hadn’t explicitly invoked the diner tear, and/or if Clinton flunky Howard Wolfson hadn’t immediately try to tell us afterward that this was “the moment she retook the reins of this race and showed women and men why she is the best choice.” Um, no, not really.

Penn no better in Penn.

More signs of post-Feb. 5 incompetence from the Clinton camp. Just as they only recently “discovered” the rules in Texas, they somehow didn’t manage to file a full slate of delegates in Pennsylvania, despite having the backing of the state’s Democratic machine and despite Clinton supporter Gov. Ed Rendell giving the campaign an extension to do so. “It appears Clinton came up 10 or 11 candidates short across a number of congressional districts, including two in Philadelphia. That’s close to 10 percent of the 103 delegates to be decided by voters. It appears the shortage would’ve been double that if Rendell hadn’t extended last week’s candidate filing deadline by a day and a half, ostensibly due to bad weather.

Ready (to Screw Up) On Day One.

Several top Clinton strategists and fundraisers became alarmed after learning of the state’s unusual provisions during a closed-door strategy meeting this month, according to one person who attended. What Clinton aides discovered is that in certain targeted districts, such as Democratic state Sen. Juan Hinojosa’s heavily Hispanic Senate district in the Rio Grande Valley, Clinton could win an overwhelming majority of votes but gain only a small edge in delegates.” The Clinton campaign “discovers” the long-standing Texas primary rules this month. I mean, why bother to learn the state rules before running for president (or before making Texas the last-ditch firewall)? As a TPM commenter deadpanned, Sen. Clinton must have just presumed she’d be greeted as a liberator.

What are they paying Mark Penn $4.3 million for again? Did their Texas strategy encompass anything beyond kids in mariachi outfits? This is rank incompetence, and no way to run a presidential campaign…or a country.

Clinton: If we have to, we’ll steal it.

It’s sad to have to put aside the Valentine’s Day cheer so soon after midnight, but there’s no other way to put it: The Clinton campaign have lost their damn fool minds. At first, all seemed well. In an article by NYT‘s Adam Nagourney, Clinton officials reiterated what Howard Fineman reported last night: that the Clinton campaign basically admitted they wouldn’t match Sen. Obama’s pledged delegate total. “Mrs. Clinton’s advisers acknowledged that it would be difficult for her to catch up in the race for pledged delegates even if she succeeded in winning Ohio and Texas in three weeks and Pennsylvania in April. They said the Democratic Party’s rules, which award delegates relatively evenly among the candidates based on the proportion of the vote they receive, would require her to win by huge margins in those states to match Mr. Obama in delegates won through voting.” This is true, and it’s the crux of their dilemma. Their last hope lies in racking up massive and decisive wins in Ohio and Texas, which is highly unlikely but worth the old college try. But, here’s the warning sign: “With every delegate precious, Mrs. Clinton’s advisers also made it clear that they were prepared to take a number of potentially incendiary steps to build up Mrs. Clinton’s count.

Sure enough, they have. According to the Boston Globe, forget Ohio and Texas: The Clinton campaign has said it will not concede the race, even if it is clear they’ve lost the delegate count on June 7 (Puerto Rico). “Clinton will not concede the race to Obama if he wins a greater number of pledged delegates by the end of the primary season, and will count on the 796 elected officials and party bigwigs to put her over the top, if necessary, said Clinton’s communications director, Howard Wolfson.” Never give up, never surrender! So, in effect, they’re saying they’ll risk an ugly and suicidal party schism, in the vain hope that the superdelegates don’t decide to renounce them en masse once they come in second, which they’re now basically admitting they will. And how are they going to convince the supers to back their play? Enter campaign strategist Mark Penn: “Could we possibly have a nominee who hasn’t won any of the significant states — outside of Illinois? That raises some serious questions about Sen. Obama.

So…sorry you had to hear it this way, but Alabama, Alaska, Colorado, Connecticut, DC, Delaware, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Carolina, Utah, Virginia, the Virgin Islands, and Washington: you are not significant. Or at least according to the Clinton campaign. But please do vote Democratic in November.

As I said above, I never expected the Clinton campaign to make any drastic decisions until after March 4. I mean, I know they themselves aren’t big on the audacity of hope, but you never know: They might well be able to pull out the huge margins they need in both Ohio and Texas to stay mathematically viable. Stranger things have happened, some in this very election, and after the New Hampshire comeback, I’m not going to count them out until those returns come in. But, right now, they’re flat-out embarrassing themselves. [Globe and MSNBC links via TPM.]

Update: The Prospect‘s Ezra Klein is not happy: “If Hillary Clinton does not win delegates out of a majority of contested primaries and caucuses, her aides are willing to rip the party apart to secure the nomination, to cheat in a way that will rend the Democratic coalition and probably destroy Clinton’s chances in the general election…This demonstrates not only a gross ruthlessness on the part of Clinton’s campaign, but an astonishingly cavalier attitude towards the preservation of the progressive coalition. To be willing to blithely rip it to shreds in order to wrest a nomination that’s not been fairly earned is not only low, but a demonstration of deeply pernicious priorities.

Spinning the Saturday Sweep.

How will the Clinton campaign rationalize the losses over the weekend? It’s not pretty. Said Senator Clinton: “‘These are caucus states by and large, or in the case of Louisiana, you know, a very strong and very proud African-American electorate, which I totally respect and understand.’ Noting that ‘my husband never did well in caucus states either,’ Clinton argued that caucuses are ‘primarily dominated by activists” and that “they don’t represent the electorate, we know that.‘” So, “activists” and African-Americans, not “real” Dems. Got it. As for Bill Clinton’s take: “‘Her campaign’s broad appeal is largely to people who need a president,’ Clinton told an audience in Silver Spring’s Leisure World retirement community tonight. ‘Very often they are working and busy and dont go to these caucuses.’” Sure. I guess holding them on a weekend probably didn’t help either. As a commenter at TNR wryly characterized the spin last night: “Clearly there’s been a massive flood of Latte sipping African American knowledge workers into rural Maine.

Mind you, I’ve said before that caucuses may not be the best way to organize a statewide election. But, given both the breadth and depth of Obama’s leads in caucus states all across the country, Sen. Clinton’s continued losses speak less to the inherent problems of caucusing than to the inherent problems of the Clinton campaign. As I said yesterday, if her campaign is any indication of the managerial talent we can expect from a Clinton presidency, the prognosis is not good. To wit, it’s poorly managed, woefully disorganized, suffers from a lack of “activist” enthusiasm, and — like a certain Republican administration I could mention — clearly had no Plan B. (Also, apparently, Sen. Clinton wasn’t apprised of her dismal funding situation until after Iowa. Another managerial coup.)

Obama’s Iowa: The Clinton Response.

For a candidate sometimes accused of arrogance, Clinton did little in the immediate aftermath of the Iowa caucuses to suggest that she held herself responsible for the defeat or intended to change her message to attract voters in other states. Instead she and her advisers blamed the electorate and the process, saying the Iowa system is flawed… At the same time, her campaign advisers made some arguments that seemed to defy logic: They contended that, although the Iowa system is too exclusive, she also lost because so many people participated in the process.

As a candidate who’s been cultivating her inevitability as the presumptive nominee, Hillary Clinton’s third place finish last night was obviously a huge setback for her (and for her main campaign strategist, Mark Penn.) Still, Senator Clinton is the well-financed, well-organized establishment candidate, and she enjoys both huge name recognition and a Weapon X in her popular, crowd-galvanizing husband. So, how does the Clinton camp propose to turn things around in four days? Let’s take a look.

  • First, argue that the “real” voters didn’t vote in Iowa. See Senator Clinton’s “concession” speech: “There were a lot of people who couldn’t caucus tonight despite the very large turnout. There are a lot of Iowans who are in the military…There are a lot of people who work at night.

  • Second, recognize the youth of today: “Per NBC’s Andrea Mitchell, at an off-camera briefing aboard the Clinton plane, strategist Mark Penn attributed Clinton’s loss to the unprecedented turnout of younger voters. He said they got the voters they’d targeted — but ‘the difference is the under 30 group turned out.’ He suggested they would fix that in New Hampshire ‘by making clear that she was about change for all generations.’

    As such, here’s Clinton’s new approach: “Just seconds into her speech Friday morning, Clinton was declaring herself the candidate for America’s youth. Clinton got off her plane in New Hampshire and declared: ‘This is especially about all of the young people in New Hampshire who need a president who won’t just call for change, or a president who won’t just demand change, but a president who will produce change, just like I’ve been doing for 35 years.’ ‘I’m running for president to reclaim the future — the future for all of us, of all ages, but particularly for young Americans,” she said a few seconds later.‘”

  • Third, convince people Iowa doesn’t matter: “‘The worst thing would be to over count Iowa and its importance,’ said chief strategist Mark Penn…’Iowa doesn’t have a record of picking presidents. We’re in a strong position to move forward.’…’Iowa is so small, it’s like a mayor’s race in a medium-sized city,’ traveling press secretary Jay Carson said. ‘It wouldn’t be wise to put too much emphasis on it.‘” (In NH today, Bill Clinton didn’t even mention last night, although he did ask New Hampshire residents to show their “independent judgment.”)

  • Fourth, reduce New Hampshire expectations: “‘We have the resources to take this campaign all the way through to the nomination,’ Terry McAuliffe, the campaign chairman, said on the conference call.” “‘President Clinton lost five states before he won a single state in his quest for the nomination,’ Penn said.

  • Fifth, insult people’s intelligence: “Mr. McAuliffe said that the campaign ‘exceeded our goals’ in Iowa…’Hillary Clinton is going to be the nominee. I feel stronger about that today than ever before.‘” Really? Than you did before yesterday?

  • Sixth, get ready to go negative: “Hillary Rodham Clinton plans to target what her campaign calls Barack Obama’s inexperience over the next five days in New Hampshire and deliver much sharper – and likely much more personal and negative – attacks against the Iowa winner, according to Democrats familiar with the evolving strategy.

    Update: Oops, look like I missed a particularly virulent one.

  • Seventh, Take a lowball page from the fired Bill Shaheen and subtly invoke drug hysteria. Exhibit A: “Clinton said, ‘Of all the people running for president, I’ve been the most vetted, the most investigated and — my goodness — the most innocent, it turns out.’‘” The most “innocent”? “Asked what she meant when she said earlier to a crowd in Nashua, N.H., that all of the vetting and investigations of her record had found her “most innocent,” Clinton simply said: ‘I think I come into this race tested and proven and ready to take on the Republicans no matter what they send my way.’

    If that “my goodness, whatever was Obama up to?” stunt (basically Choose Your Own Scandal redux) didn’t already reek of desperation, the Clinton camp’s Hail Mary fumbling with drug hysteria push-buttons gets even worse. Also from the ABC article above: “Aiming at Obama’s signature rhetoric, Clinton said what America needs is someone who can ‘actually deliver change’ not ‘false hopes.’ While the senator was vague, her campaign pointed out to ABC News examples of Obama’s liberal positions. In 2004, Obama said he would vote to abolish mandatory minimum sentences for federal crimes. ‘Mandatory minimums take too much discretion away from judges,’ Obama said in an NAACP debate.

    That they do — In fact the Supreme Court just agreed as much in a 7-2 decision, one which included those crazy liberals John Roberts and Antonin Scalia in the majority. So, what’s Clinton’s point, and what on earth does Obama’s stance on mandatory minimums have do with “change” and “false hopes” anyway? Put plainly, they seem to be saying, “Obama isn’t only a former drug user, he’s soft on them too.Willie Horton much, Senator Clinton? Coming from Shaheen a month ago, it was bad enough. Coming from the candidate herself, this is a new low.

    At any rate, it should be noted that while the Granite State terrain ostensibly favors Obama, and, as noted below, the Iowa bounce is real, Clinton is currently up six in NH, according to today’s (pre-Iowa) Zogby poll: 32% to Obama’s 26% (to Edwards’ 20%). [Update 2: Obama up 10?(!)] So keep an eye out for the debate on Saturday night. Obama still has some ground to make up, and Clinton isn’t going anywhere just yet. Despite last night’s impressive win, the Obama team can’t just rest on the laurels of Iowa to keep moving through New Hampshire. Let’s do it again.

  • Indy Cred for Obama?

    Don’t call it a comeback? A new USA Today/Gallup poll finds Clinton and Obama virtually tied in a national poll, 37%-36%. “Mark Penn, Clinton’s chief strategist, calls the USA TODAY poll ‘an outlier’ that is ‘completely out of sync’ with other surveys. He says it is ‘seriously flawed’ for including so many independents unlikely to vote in Democratic primaries…Among Democrats alone, Clinton leads Obama by 5 points, 34%-29%…Among independents, Obama leads by 9 points, 31%-22%.” Good to hear, but admittedly this poll doesn’t sound quite right: “An ABC News/Washington Post poll taken last Tuesday through Friday gave Clinton a 12-point lead.Update: Iowa’s all tied up too: Clinton 25%, Edwards 23%, Obama 22%. “Women have a strong preference for Clinton, while those under the age of 45 give Obama a double-digit lead. Obama and Clinton are nearly tied for support among first-time caucus-goers, but previous attendees give Edwards a narrow edge over Clinton.

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