(Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton: She takes a licking and keeps on ticking)
CLINTON: THE COMEBACK KID
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After 11 straight primary losses in a row, there’s only one word (or an old Rolling Stones song, if you prefer) to describe how Hillary Clinton’s supporters must be feeling today: Satisfaction.
Last night, Clinton once again stunned the pundits and savants by pulling off a sweep of three key primary states in what by any standard must be deemed an impressive comeback.
Just a week ago, the press and pollsters were all but declaring her candidacy dead in the water. Again. And so in a command performance of Senator Clinton’s astounding comebacks in New Hampshire and on Super Tuesday, she proved `em all dead wrong. Again.
I DIDN’T MEAN TO SAY I TOLD YOU SO, BUT…
If there is one time-honored rule of modern politics, it is: never count the Clintons out.
No matter how many scandals may befall the Democratic golden couple, no matter how many ”Hillary Haters” there are out there, no matter how many attacks Hillary takes for being too-this-or-too-that, she survives it all and somehow seems to take it in stride. Like Elton John, she’s still standing, baby. And she’s still fighting. More than that, she enjoys a good scrap. Which means she’s one hell of a good politician.
Love her or hate her, you’ve got to admit this woman is a master of the political art. With a keen sense of knowing when to pull back on her opponent and when to pounce, Hillary Clinton stayed above the fray earlier in the campaign by letting her husband do the dirty-work.
The former president took the flames for his comments about Barack Obama on the campaign trail while Hillary took the high road. Brilliant good-cop/bad-cop strategy, and unprecedented at that; who ever heard of a former president and first lady tag-teaming her opponent in a presidential race? Who could have been ready for it? Certainly not their unfortunate opponent, who was too blindsided to respond adequately. (“At this point, I’m not exactly sure which Clinton I’m running against,” quipped a baffled Senator Obama.)
Shedding a few perfectly-timed tears on the eve of the Hew Hampshire primary (when she was trailing by as much as 13% in the polls) didn’t hurt a bit, either.
Even when many within the Kennedy family (longtime Clinton allies) split off and endorsed Obama just after the South Carolina primary and all the pundits once again declared this was surely the end for Senator Clinton’s candidacy, she rebounded again on Super Tuesday, claiming the biggest prize of all, California…even with a Kennedy sitting in the Governor’s mansion. (Maria Shriver had just endorsed Obama two days earlier.)
You wanna talk about Shock and Awe? How about Clinton winning Massachusetts, the home state of Democratic darlings Ted Kennedy and John Kerry, who also endorsed Obama?
Then there were those 11 straight primary losses. Ouch. That’s gotta hurt. The mainstream media could hardly wait to write her political obituary and deem her as insignificant to this race as Mike Huckabee. But then… something happened in the week before the March 4th primaries.
Something turned this thing in Clinton’s favor last night, and now all the pundits scratch their heads in bewilderment and engage in more Wednesday-morning quarterbacking. Particularly amusing was watching the MSNBC gang, who can’t seem to bring Obama enough pillows here lately. (Although Clinton is not my candidate, I’ve got to tell you that I rather enjoyed watching these overpaid geniuses try to figure out what her secret was.) How did she do it, despite their best efforts to effectively kill her campaign?
WAS OBAMA OVERCONFIDENT OR DID CLINTON JUST TRY HARDER?
Here in Austin, Texas, I had a front row seat for the whole process and can easily lay out how Clinton’s victory happened. Simply put, Hillary and her campaign staff worked their asses off. The Clinton campaign did a lot more than just throw a zillion ads on TV. They didn’t just relax and wait for the inevitable votes to come rolling in. They took nothing for granted this time.
From my standpoint on the ground here, not just as a political reporter but as a voting citizen, here is what I personally saw: over the past three weeks, every single candidate (regardless of party affiliation) has called my home to ask for my support. EXCEPT, to my surprise, Barack Obama.
I’ve recieved numerous pieces of direct mail from every candidate running for dog-catcher, let alone the presidency…everyone, that is, except Barack Obama. Campaign volunteers have come to the door pushing their candidate’s literature under my nose so often that I nearly ran out of milk and cookies to offer them all and began to reconsider just how far this whole Southern hospitality thing should really go.
Not that they weren’t pleasant to talk to…all of them were, even the Republicans. (Ron Paul’s people were especially cool to hang out with – hell, I even invited them to stay for lunch.) As a political animal and staunch independent with no dog in this race, I quite often enjoy hearing their sales pitches and of course, engaging them in a bit of friendly debate. So I sparred with campaigners for John McCain (thoroughly enjoyable!) and the Clinton camp, too, of course. Was really looking forward to a tete a’ tete with the Obama people, but unfortunately, they never showed up.
Inexplicable as it seems, it’s true. As longtime readers of this blog know, I’m not supporting any of the current candidates in this race and therefore have no reason to lie. I’m just telling you what I saw – and most importantly, didn’t see. Never once did I get a piece of direct mail from the Obama campaign, not a single phone call, no email, no one knocked on my door. Meanwhile, every other candidate courted me like the belle of the ball.
Voters like that sort of thing, you know. When our state is in the primary spotlight, we enjoy the process of candidate courtship. Most of us do not object to a quick phone call or better yet, a personal visit. We may not wind up voting for you, but we sure like being asked to. Matter of fact, we are far more likely to vote for you if you simply ask for our vote. I know it sounds simple, but you’d be surprised just how well it really works.
(Senator Obama may have learned a valuable lesson from his Lone Star defeat: that it takes a lot more than donning a ten-gallon hat to win the hearts, minds, and votes of Texans.)
SIGNED, SEALED, DELIVERED? WELL…MAYBE NOT JUST YET.
Now, I’m not exactly sure what all those fervent, youthful volunteers over at the Obama camp do all day long -eat pizza, play video games, post Hillary-hatin’ attacks on Democratic Underground, who knows? – but they’re sure as hell not out knocking on doors and ringing phones. At least not in my neighborhood, which is largely comprised of young middle-class, college-educated whites and a mix of Hispanic and African-American families, presumably the target demographic they hope to reach.
Whereas the Obama campaign was conspicuously absent from my doorstep, mailbox and answering machine – hell, I didn’t even get one of the obligatory recorded messages from the candidate himself which are so popular nowadays – Camp Clinton pursued me fervently. Their approach was surprisingly personable, even…dare I say it aloud? – humble.
For example, two Sundays ago, my phone rang all day long with campaign calls – McCain, Huckabee, Ron Paul, Governor Rick Perry endorsing McCain, even Cindy McCain called with a pre-recorded pitch for her hubby (who doesn’t sleep around with attractive lobbyists)…to the point where I just let the answering machine take all these bothersome robot calls. It was bad enough to have my Sunday afternoon constantly interrupted by candidates I wouldn’t consider voting for anyway, but something about all these damn prerecorded messages was rather off-putting. If a candidate really wants my vote, you’d think they might go to the trouble to put a live human being on the phone.
Just when I was about to rip the blasted phone jack out of the wall, it rang again. I let the call go to my answering machine, thinking, “oh shit, here comes another canned campaign message,” and lo and behold, it was the sound of a real human being on the other end of the line. She introduced herself as a volunteer for Hillary Clinton, gave her name and a callback number, encouraging me to call anytime if I had questions for the candidate or wanted to volunteer. While I certainly had no intentions of doing either, something about the personal approach appealed to me and I picked up the phone.
The Clinton campaign volunteer I spoke to was a Hispanic woman calling from New Mexico, and she was audibly relieved just to hear a friendly voice on the line. It was obvious she hadn’t had much luck calling Texans today, and had already been yelled at a few times. Sheepishly, she went into her script about how men have been running the country forever (and just look what a mess they’ve made of things! My goodness gracious!) and didn’t I think it was time to give a woman a try?
Nice approach – and since I am female, I got script B. If I had been a male voter, I’m sure I would have gotten script A, as I somehow don’t think the whole feminist slant would have proved effective with menfolk down here in Texas. Nonetheless, after talking with the volunteer for a few minutes, it was apparent that Camp Clinton was putting in the effort that no other campaign was, and I must say, I was duly impressed.
(Not that it changed the way I voted, but it did change the way I view Hillary Clinton as a candidate, and to be honest, my impression is far more favorable than before. I respect any candidate who is hungry enough to work hard to win every last vote. That’s The Way It Ought To Be, dont’cha think?)
That was even before the now-infamous-but-effective “3 A.M.” ad hit the airwaves late this week, and before Hillary Clinton made her perfectly-timed, self-effacing appearances on Saturday Night Live and The Daily Show. All of this, combined with her raising questions about Obama’s NAFTA rhetoric and some of his campaign advisers in the days leading up to the Texas primary, was again a brilliant strategy and proved decisive in swaying the vote of the last-minute undecideds.
The proof of all that hard work and strategizing was in the pudding: big victories for Clinton in Rhode Island, Ohio and Texas.
THE PROOF IS IN THE PUDDING, BUT THE DEVIL IS IN THE DELEGATES
As the old saying goes, “the proof is in the pudding, but the devil is in the details.” And in this case, the details are the delegates. On that front, Obama is still leading in Texas.
Texas, always priding itself on being different (often just for the sake of being different), has an admittedly bizarre system of having both a primary and a caucus.
“Run that by me again,” you say?
Okay, here’s how it works: the delegate count is not given on a winner-take-all basis here. Two-thirds of the delegates are awarded by the popular vote count from the primary – then the remaining third are decided through caucuses held at local polling precincts the same night. After the polls close, you simply return to your precinct and caucus for your candidate, sometimes into the wee-wee hours.
While Clinton won the popular vote in Texas by a slim margin, Obama is doing very well in the caucus, the results of which are still being tabulated at press time today. If the caucus vote turns out as expected, Obama will beat Clinton by 10 points or more, which certainly makes a considerable dent in her delegate count. So win or lose, this thing may well turn out to be a draw..but it ain’t over. Just ask Hillary.
Little more than a week ago, everyone from James Carville to her own husband, former president Bill Clinton, were saying if she didn’t win big in Texas and Ohio, she would just have to fold up her tent and go home to Westchester. Well…better rewrite that headline.
Hillary may not have scored landslide wins across the board last night, but it was enough to keep her viable and very much in this race.
WHAT HAPPENS NOW?
While the Republicans caved quickly, the challengers fell away, the conservative opposition melted, and a nominee was decided last night in John McCain, the Democrats may well be taking their fight to the convention floor in Denver. And that’s five months away. While I like Barack Obama and think he’s a candidate with incredible promise, allow me to just offer a bit of advice on the subject of Hillary Clinton: if you think she’s going to drop out of this race before Denver, you’re out of your mind.
This resilient woman has proven herself not only a formidable political force to be reckoned with down through the years, but she has also proven in this race that she always knows the right move to make at the right time. She’s a shrewd strategist and a brilliant politician. She’s a tough campaigner and a down-in-the-alley streetfighter when need be. Just ask Barack Obama, who spent most of this week fending off the slings and arrows.
Is this good for the country? In my humble opinion, no. Is it good for the Democratic Party? Well, I’ll probably get shot for saying this, but yes, I think it’s very healthy for the Democratic process, and even for the party itself.
If this battle winds up on the convention floor this summer, not only will it be the most exciting convention in recent memory, but will keep the process exciting – not just for Democrats, but for the country and all who are closely watching our elections around the world.
After all, who wants to pick a nominee in February, forcing all other contenders out of the race? Borrrrrrring. We might as well nap `til November. And isn’t that exactly why so many Democrats fought against the idea of Hillary as the “inevitable” nominee all this year? Did this attitude not contribute to the sudden rise of Barack Obama as the anti-Clinton?
Hillary Clinton didn’t turn out to be the inevitable candidate she first painted herself to be, that’s a fact. Senator Obama is certainly giving her a good run for her money. But, Hillary has proven over and over again that she can’t be quite so easily dismissed or defeated.
In the fight for her political life these past few weeks, Senator Clinton has shown us that she’s still got “it” (whatever ‘it” is). Call “it” blonde ambition or fanatic feminism, a refusal to be a loser, an ego-trip, a mad grab for power, or what you will, but after last night, you’d also have to call her a winner.
So hold that obituary, MSNBC. I have a sneaking suspicion that Hillary just might surprise ya’ll a few more times before it’s all said and done.