In 2008, Hillary Clinton’s flagging and eventually doomed presidential campaign got a breath of new life when she scored an unexpected victory over Barack Obama in New Hampshire. Nearly eight years later, Politico reports that her current campaign has begun to argue that Hillary can no longer compete for the Granite State in the Democratic primary. Instead, they’re looking at a new strategy that ignores the first two primary fights altogether:
Hillary Clinton is losing in New Hampshire, and at least one small contingent of family allies thinks it’s nearly time to cut bait.
The group — veterans of the family’s old campaigns and people close to Clinton’s fundraising — see little reason to support a strategy that continues to pour resources into the state where Bernie Sanders’ already surprising lead shows no signs of shrinking.
Despite confidence emanating from the campaign’s paid leadership team that Clinton is well positioned with more than four months to go before the primary, this circle of informal advisers is whispering about more aggressively looking beyond New Hampshire after a summer that saw her polling advantage evaporate. These confidantes are not only granting the possibility that Sanders could win here: they see it as a near-certainty, and in some cases wonder about the usefulness of flooding the state with precious resources.
Instead, they’re arguing that Clinton’s campaign would be just fine focusing on the states that follow in early 2016.
This isn’t just a momentary panic. To find the last time Hillary led in a New Hampshire poll, one has to go back more than two months to the Gravis poll at the beginning of August, which only gave her a +4 over Sanders. It’s been Sanders ever since, by ever-increasing margins. His current lead in the Real Clear Politics average is 11.3 points, and their chart shows the trend clearly enough:
At the moment, Hillary still leads in Iowa by 6.3 points in the RCP average, but her support has dropped more than 20 points since the spring. She had the same arc in 2007-8, and ended up embarrassed in third place in the caucuses. Sanders has also hit a bit of a plateau in Iowa of late, but he’s much more the kind of populist who can score big there. It’s very possible that a strategy that discounts New Hampshire will mean a two-state loss out of the gate for Hillary.
So what is the path for Hillary if she loses both Iowa and New Hampshire? It’s true that delegate counts aren’t terribly significant in those first two contests; New Hampshire only has 24 out of 3,636 delegates to the Democratic convention, and Iowa’s 46 don’t actually get assigned until their state convention in June. Nevada comes next in a caucus (31), but then the real firewall for Hillary comes a week later in South Carolina (51). She leads in the Palmetto state by 28 points in the RCP average, and three days later most of the rest of the South votes in their primaries, with 660 delegates at stake among those states.
Mathematically, this may work, but politically it looks like a disaster. In a general election, Hillary has as much chance of winning South Carolina, Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee as she does Texas — and that’s almost certainly true of Arkansas as well. Democrats who see Hillary backing away from a fight in Iowa and New Hampshire have real reason to worry what a Team Hillary general election campaign would look like, and where they would draw the retreat line in October 2016.
Maybe by that time, Hillary Clinton will be able to articulate why she’s running for President. The Hill reports that Hillary’s having a difficult time trying to find a reason other than sheer personal ambition, which surprisingly doesn’t sell all that well:
David Axelrod, one of the masterminds of President Obama’s 2008 victory, has persistently warned that Clinton needs to provide a clear rationale for why she’s seeking the White House.
“ ‘Hillary: Live with it’ is no rallying cry!” Axelrod tweeted last month while bemoaning that the Clinton camp was running a “grinding, tactical race.”
Last December, Axelrod had warned that Clinton needed to show she was “running for a purpose and not just for a promotion.” He has also said, “You have to stand for something, you have to fight for something, and people need to know what that is.”…
“Nothing about the campaign reads as fresh and new, but rather as cautious, risk-averse and private,” one Democratic strategist, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said of the Clinton campaign.
Independent observers, too, suggest that the former secretary of State has been slow to offer a summation of her reasons for seeking the presidency, beyond personal ambition.
I doubt that “Hillary: Rally to the Victim” will play well, either.