Why Hillary Lost

Her nomination, that seemed so certain in the Summer and Fall of 2007, had everyone thinking the campaign would be over by February 2008.

Conservative pundits made a short career of debating which candidate was best suited to run against her. 

The Democrats were talking coronation and with her lengthy list of towering advantages she appeared unstoppable. There was Bill, the money, the name recognition, the inside party track, the media appeal – it went on and on.

But in the end, Hillary and her campaign were victims of fatal and decisive flaws, both in public and behind the scenes. I blogged about it on Shadow Democracy several times last year when it wasn’t fashionable. Once the race began, those fatal flaws were quickly exposed, and the aforementioned advantages rapidly devolved into chronic vulnerabilities.

One thing the Clinton campaign underestimated right from the start was the national mood. The idea of Bush followed by Clinton, then Clinton again, then another Bush, then another Clinton possibly – was wearing a bit thin with people. Turns out the electorate wanted a fresh face – in steps Obama.

Then there was the war.

At first, it seemed the war would win over moderates and even some conservatives to the Clinton camp, but as 2007 drew to a close, the sentiment of most of the public, driven by Democratic Party activists, had shifted overwhelmingly against the war in Iraq. In the background, Bill Clinton, who harbors a reputation as a great campaigner, maybe one of the best ever, also seemed out of step with the national mood, as his verbal gaffs began to take their toll on the trail. His confrontational comments on the trail alienated supporters, as he managed to steal media coverage from his wife. Many even wondered out loud if this would be a de-facto Bill Clinton third term.She never really latched onto the looming recession either. It is now the number one issue going into November.

The organization she gathered around her also failed her at nearly every turn.

She let party loyalists with questionable track records – such as campaign manager Patti Solis Doyle and strategist Mark Penn, steer the ship into an iceberg, and even after the ship was sinking, she held on to them. Penn’s strategy of a Hillary coronation and short campaign, proved to be a disaster, particularly financially. Under his direction her likability ratings plummeted by the end of 2007, and her campaign went ‘slogan fishing’ by February 2008, never really hitting the right chord. 

Solis Doyle somehow managed to burn through tens of millions of dollars by January 2008, and Hillary’s massive cash advantage soon evaporated in the face of an Obama fundraising juggernaut.

Staff began to bicker, and internal turmoil became regular news out of the Clinton camp.

Her Iowa loss was proof that an inevitable coronation was no longer a universally accepted conslusion for Clinton.

But in the end, it was Clinton herself that made the biggest missteps. 

She emphasized her government service and superior experience, and that invited scrutiny. Her speeches were flat and here manner on the trail came off as downright arrogant. She had to appear tough, yet fake tears in New Hampshire. Some of her toughest attacks on Obama came off as ‘sour grapes’ and her very sincerity toward voters was open to full debate. Then many, after absorbing several gaffs, began to call her a liar.

Unexpected reversals, such as her backtrack on the issue of drivers’ licenses for undocumented immigrants, hurt her as well. So did her reluctance to admit her errors. 

Democratic icons such as Sen. Edward Kennedy and former Clinton loyalists such as New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson began to back Obama.

The rest we know.

Republicans once wrung their collectives hands over how to take on Clinton. Today at noon, she will solve that issue for them – by dropping out. The writing was on the wall since last year, the Republicans just couldn’t see it.

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Filed under Democratic Party, Election 2008, Politics

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