Thursday, September 30, 2010

An Inexperienced Campaigner

After reading about President Obama castigating his followers for not being motivated enough I remembered just how inexperienced he is as running a national campaign. If it was not for some major miscalculations, Hillary Clinton would be president today.

Obama caught a break in his first campaign for national office. He did not face serious competition for his Senate seat. He was given a big boost by being the keynote speaker for the 2004 Democratic convention. He gave a great speech, so great that there was talk of him running for president before the applause ended.

Going into the 2008 campaign, Clinton was the favorite with Obama the underdog. He did surprisingly well in the first set of caucuses while Hillary carried the primaries.

The Clinton strategy was to wrap up the nomination by Super Tuesday. Hillary didn't even have staff in states with primaries or caucuses after Super Tuesday. She spent all of her campaign funds.

When the dust settled, Obama was still in the race and Hillary's campaign was broke. It took several agonizing weeks and a personal loan to her campaign to get things moving again. In the meantime, Obama ran almost unopposed in several small primaries. He did not win every one of them but he won at least one every Tuesday for more than a month.

Once the Clinton campaign got organized again, Hillary proved that she could win nearly any large state that she was able to seriously run in. It wasn't enough. Obama was still winning small states where Hillary was not competing.

If that wasn't bad enough, Texas runs dual primaries. Hillary won the vote but it was a Pyrrhic victory. The Texas caucuses gave Obama more delegates than the vote gave Hillary.

The primaries ended without a clear victor. Obama was ahead but there were enough super delegates to give Hillary the nomination. Her case was that she ran better than Obama in the big states, the ones that a Democrat had to carry to win.

Obama got the nomination on the basis of the long list of states that he had won, the sense of inevitability surrounding his campaign, and the fact that he had more delegates.

That leaves the Democrats with a man at the top who has always had problems with tight races and who has trouble connecting with rural voters. None of those weaknesses have gone away. Obama would still rather psychoanalyze the voters than connect with them.

Two years ago Obama didn't have to break a sweat to fire up the voters. The presence of a black man at the head of the ticket fired up a significant portion of the electorate. The fact that he promised to be the anti-Bush fired up the rest. Now the novelty has worn off and Bush is a distant memory. Left to his own devices, Obama is having trouble firing up the voters.

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