- The Washington Times - Friday, June 6, 2008

“I’m in, and I’m in to win,” Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton declared on Jan. 20, 2007, when announcing she was embarking on a bid to become the first female president.

But she didn’t.

Democrats examining Mrs. Clinton’s surprising loss to Sen. Barack Obama cite underestimating her rival, a flawed fundraising strategy, or her failure to offer enough of what voters say they wanted: Change. Others say the aura of inevitability that built her up is what brought her down as some voters saw her as acting entitled.

Her aides early on focused on the wrong candidate - former Sen. John Edwards - thinking that Mr. Obama was a fad whose support was “a mile wide and an inch deep,” and would soon flame out. Instead, she was out-organized by the political newcomer whose massive rallies and strong support with young voters have Republicans scared.

Had the former first lady and senator from New York imitated Sen. John McCain and skipped the Iowa caucuses - as one top staffer recommended early on - Mr. Obama’s win there may not have carried so much weight.

Instead, she fought hard in Iowa and burned through cash on a helicopter tour, on ads that pushed a message that wasn’t working, and on shovels for snowy driveways on caucus night to help her older supporters get to the caucus. The efforts and spending didn’t help, and her third-place showing did what Obama allies had hoped: cast doubt on the inevitability surrounding her candidacy.

Caught off guard by his fundraising, she didn’t adjust quickly enough to focus on small donations that built the Obama fundraising juggernaut. He considered purchases of $1 bumper stickers as donations, a strategy that helped him build his war chest early.

Once she caught up and deployed similar tactics, the money flowed from dedicated supporters, but it was too late.

Mr. Obama has not had time to celebrate his own historic bid to become the first black president before Mrs. Clinton dominated coverage with the issue of whether and how she will concede. She is to make her official endorsement of the senator from Illinois on Saturday.

The night he clinched the delegate number for the party nod and Mrs. Clinton did not congratulate him on crossing the threshold needed for ultimate victory, Mr. Obama cautioned friends that he didn’t want champagne to flow aboard his plane.

He quoted NBA great Magic Johnson, a Clinton supporter, by saying it made no sense to cut the nets before the finals in an allusion to the competitive and accelerated general election Nov. 4.

But some of his top supporters privately grumbled that he didn’t get time to savor the incredible victory he had just achieved - the defeat of a titan with political machinery that few thought could match hers.

Early Obama donor and Black Entertainment Television founder Sheila Johnson was beaming Wednesday after a Democratic fundraiser in New York.

Asked whether she thought he would reach this point when first giving to his campaign, she said, “I really believed that he could be, and that’s the only way you can go forward. You take the risk.”

Former Clinton adviser Mike Henry, who left the campaign in February, argued in a May 2007 memo that competing in Iowa was risky for the former first lady. The advice, which the candidate rejected, correctly predicted a split decision among Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

Under that scenario, “We now enter into the February 5th mega states with no money, little time to raise it, and have to rely on earned media to get our message out.”

Skipping Iowa, he said, “is a bold move, one that increases our momentum and improves our positioning. This is a better, smarter, and more efficient way to win the nomination.”

Democrats who have closely followed the campaign said they found Mrs. Clinton’s early ads with an “experience” message - and especially her “3 a.m.” ad portraying Mr. Obama as weak on national security - were tired and didn’t recognize a changing political dynamic.

Mr. Obama, by contrast, reached out to voters more extensively with text messaging and through Web videos.

In late March, Mrs. Clinton pivoted and began a broader push using technology to showcase her true personality. Her to-the-camera video testimonials and use of daughter Chelsea to speak with passion about her mother greatly boosted her in the eyes of her most fervent supporters: women.

In April, she ditched chief strategist Mark Penn, the man many blame for her early campaign implosions.

Early on, he took a large role in shaping her image as tough, one she later reversed to portray herself as a woman of the people and sensitive maternal figure.

Eleven months ago, Mr. Penn distributed a memo later dubbed the “inevitable” memo, noting: “Hillary’s electoral strength has grown in the last quarter and she is better positioned today than ever before to become the next president of the United States.”

He cited polls showing her with nearly 20-point leads over “her nearest competitors,” and in the long memo mentioned Mr. Obama’s name only to cite those polls.

“Voters yearn for change and they say that Hillary has the strength and experience to actually bring about that change. Hillary’s message: that her strength and experience will bring real change that America needs, is resonating strongly with voters,” he wrote.

Her legacy remains to be determined, and those who want to forgive her for sharply attacking Mr. Obama will be closely watching how she treats Mr. Obama and if she fulfills her promise to work her “heart out” on behalf of his candidacy.

Many think an Obama-Clinton ticket in the fall would be unbeatable, but few political strategists think it will be formed.

As people examine the race, most praise her for the last months of the race especially, hitting multiple states and campaigning tirelessly. When she did not dominate on Super Tuesday as initially expected because of her wide name recognition and one-time double-digit national leads, her campaign was forced to scramble.

They made choices that allowed Mr. Obama to start a February winning streak but ultimately strengthened her argument.

Instead of deploying resources for the February contests - including several caucuses where Mr. Obama had been more organized - Mrs. Clinton sent her staffers into Texas and Ohio, and began talking up the importance of those large states and Pennsylvania’s election April 22.

She won all three - though Mr. Obama got more delegates because of Texas’s complex multistep caucus rules - and then dominated contests in West Virginia and Kentucky and even pulled off a surprise upset in South Dakota.

The Obama campaign underestimated her strength in the states in the Appalachian region, with campaign manager David Plouffe telling reporters around March 4, “We see not a single contest on the calendar left where she could win by big margins.”

Last month, she won West Virginia by 41 points.

But Mr. Obama’s team had long been laser-focused on earning delegates by attracting huge voter turnout and their strategy allowed him to build a lead and convince the party leaders he could duplicate that success in the fall.

In January 2007, when Mrs. Clinton announced the presidential ambitions the world had long suspected, she promised a “conversation.”

“Let the conversation begin. I have a feeling it’s going to be very interesting,” she said.

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