Sunday, January 06, 2008

RSI Down Over Obama Being So Far Up

I'm bummed about the polls having Barack Obama is so far ahead of my favorite Hillary Clinton. He's up by 10 in a CNN poll, 13 in a USA Today/Gallup poll, and 12 in Rasmussen. It's tempting to think that things have been unfair to Hillary. The press hates her even more than they hated Al Gore and it was the intense focus on her one uncertain moment over illegal immigrants that started her slide.

But Matthew Yglesias raises a good point when he states that "getting good press is part of being an effective candidate and part of being an effective president." One of the reasons why the press likes people like John McCain, George Bush, and Karl Rove is that they all put a lot of effort into schmoozing with reporters. It's been clear for a long time that Hillary Clinton doesn't like the press any more than they like her. That was a big mistake. Being hostile or dismissive to the press is almost always a bad idea for a politician because political reporters have long memories and countless opportunities to hit back.

And now she's paying the price for that particular mistake.

My own opinion is that Hillary should retool her campaign around being "positive."

Instead of focusing on attacking Obama, Hillary should emphasize her plans for getting out of Iraq, health care, education, and other issues. She should emphasize the extent to which her proposals are different from the status quo. She should stress the ways in which those plans will move the country forward, and she should also keep a positive "happy warrior" air about her. Instead of going negative on Obama, she should go postive on herself and politics.

Hillary might look at John McCain's campaign as an example of how an emphasis on the joy of campaigning, talking about issues, and reaching out to people allowed him to recover from a steep deficit in the polls. Obama's peaking now, but he's slumped before and he may slump again. Hillary wants to be in position to take advantage of that. She also might turn out to be good at being the fighting underdog.

Hillary might also think about reducing the role of her husband in the campaign. People like Bill Clinton but it looks like they don't particularly want to see him on the campaign trail.

She might also cultivate better relations with the media.


Oprichnina said...

I just finished watching the debate, which was rebroadcast on CNN tonight. Senator Obama and Senator Clinton were both solid, with no glaring mistakes, and both continued to expound on their individual themes of change. I am particularly interested in the varying degrees of spin placed on both the Iowa results and the debate itself by both the candidates and the media. As you point out, Hillary has not endeared herself to the media; moreover, she has been percieved as the front runner for much of the early campaign so the media was quick to proclaim Hillary in trouble after the early defeat in Iowa. Obama chose a strategy that emphasized producing voters; his campaign has sought out disenfranchised republicans, independents and young people at the same time that it has draw a line around the Clinton supporters as the old guard effectively limiting the type of voter Clinton can attract.
Though he too was soundly defeated by Obama, and only won a few more precincts than Hillary, Edwards quickly declared the Iowa results a mandate for a dialogue of change between himself and Obama. Clinton, meanwhile, noted that she was not supposed to do well in Iowa, that Bill Clinton was relatively unsuccesful in Iowa, and that there was a long race ahead. She is absolutely right on all counts. Obama undeniably gained momentum in Iowa and is becoming more and more viable as an alternative to Hillary, however, it is too early to say how much momentum he will carry forward, and how much is the artificial product of a 24 hour news cycle, and the need for a new front runner. Edwards is correct about one thing: it is a two person race. Unfortunately for Edwards, he has done little to distinguish himself except as a cheerleader for Obama. The race for the Democratic nomination will be a long, difficult campaign between Clinton and Obama.

Problems for Clinton
Obama's success in Iowa and corresponding surge in the polls present serious challenges for Hillary. As you and others have noted, Hillary is a polarizing figure, both with average Americans and the media. Experienced and intelligent, Clinton is probably better prepared to face the difficult tasks awaiting the next President, and most Democrats or Democrat-leaning independents, upon honest reflection, will admit respect for her abilities. However, Clinton cannot win the hearts of her constituents. Obama can. A victory in New Hampshire, and more chances to speak to the hearts of a national audience could propel him to the nomination and the Presidency.

You suggested that the Clinton campaign adjust its tactics and retool extolling a "happy warrior" message. This message would emphasize the positive nature of her own proposed solutions to the issues. First, it would be very difficult to remake in an authentic way Hillary's image as that of a "happy warrior." A warrior she is, but happy is certainly not an adjective anyone would use in a serious attempt to describe her. Second, demonstrating how her policy proposals are different now, after Obama has staked out the position as the candidate of change sends an Edwards-like message of "me too, I want change too." Finally, it allows the Obama campaign to continue to portray her as the Bill Clinton legacy candidate, an insider, one who cannot change but must be changed.

The Clinton campaign has been weighing their options on how directly and how negatively to engage Senator Obama. One question: what exactly is there to be negative about? After rewatching the debate, I think Hillary was judicious, even overly careful in her attack. She questioned his record, and suggested he continuously changed positions, while emphasizing her own length of service, and touting her own record of generating change. Yet, couched in terms of the debate, it really served to underscore Senator Obama's freshness against her insider status.

The Bill factor
Bill on the campaing trail is problematic for Hillary. To this point she has successfully used his influence as a fundraiser and speaker; however, he provides her campaign with a few problems as well making it difficult to successfully use him over the duration of the campaign. His tremendous ego, shoot from the hip style, and propensity to lapse into "I, me, my" clash with Hillary's message, and provide rivals with more opportunities to paint her campaign as a legacy campaign. She should continue to use him sparingly and less publicly, maintianing her image and ideas as the face of the campaign.

Suggestions for Clinton
Rather than change her message to emphasize the positive, and effectively copy Senator Obama, Hillary, should accentuate the stark reality of the situation facing the future President. She should then embrace her own "warrior" nature and paint herself as the only candiate capable of handling this reality. She cannot win by replicating Obama's strategy. She does not have the charisma, but what she can do is reveal how much of a fighter she really is and embrace this image. Her campaign should also ratchet up the pressure on Senator Obama regarding his inconsistent record, and portray him as unrealistic, living in a fantasy dream world. Hope and dreams are fine, but they will not actually heal the nation, bring people together, end the war, repair the economy etc. Action is required, and she needs to hammer at this theme, that her campaign is one of action, fight, and deed, while Obama's is merely one of dream, beautiful, but unsubstantial.

That said, I am still unsure myself which candidate I support. I am looking forward to an excellent race. I am confident that the victor, be it Obama or Clinton will be a welcome change.

Anonymous said...

Hillary is screwed. The Clinton Machine has always worked by attacking opponents and painting yourself as the victim. This would work great against a Republican in the general election, or any of the white Democrat hopefuls, but is worse than useless against Obama.

"Hope and dreams are fine, but they will not actually heal the nation, bring people together, end the war, repair the economy etc. Action is required, and she needs to hammer at this theme, that her campaign is one of action, fight, and deed, while Obama's is merely one of dream, beautiful, but unsubstantial."

That is too easy to paint as sell-out, moderate, DINO, etc. However you label it, it is not what the Democrat base wants to hear. Hillary is toast.

Ric Caric said...

Hillary may be screwed, but the only way to find out for sure is to play out the primary process.

Despite Oprichnina's well-reasoned critique, I still like the "happy warrior" idea. Americans like gung ho attitudes. Hillary Clinton should be strive to be gung ho about creating a progressive future. It's certainly better than just going negative on Obama. I think she's got her in it too.

Anonymous said...

Hillary has to try to create a progressive future, Obama is the progressive future.