The Clinton camp will reassess its national campaign after New Hampshire, with some insiders telling Politico Bill and Hillary Clinton are unhappy with Mrs. Clinton’s campaign messaging and digital strategy and they are considering staff changes.
Mrs. Clinton is expected to lose the first in the nation primary in New Hampshire Tuesday to Sen. Bernard Sanders, according to several polls. Still reeling from her narrow victory in Iowa, instead of re-evaluating her campaign strategy after the first four primary states, insiders tell Politico the reassessment could come sooner.
“The Clintons are not happy, and have been letting all of us know that,” one Democratic official, who speaks to both Bill and Hillary, told Politico. “The idea is that we need a more forward-looking message, for the primary — but also for the general election too. … There’s no sense of panic, but there is an urgency to fix these problems right now.”
In an interview with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow after the news broke on Monday, Mrs. Clinton said her campaign would be evaluating what’s worked and what hasn’t, and that she’s committed to her team.
“Yeah, somebody showed that to me,” Mrs. Clinton said of the Politico article, after Ms. Maddow questioned her on it. “I have no idea what they’re talking about or who they are talking to. We’re going to take stock but it’s going to be the campaign that I’ve got. I’m very confident in the people that I have. I’m very committed to them; they’re committed to doing the best we can. We’re going to take stock, what works, what doesn’t work. We’re moving into a different phase of the campaign. We’re moving into a more diverse electorate. We’re moving into different geographic areas. So, of course it would be malpractice not to say, ‘Ok, what worked? What can we do better? What do we have to do new and different that we have to pull out?”
Insiders say they are frustrated at Mrs. Clinton’s hands-off approach when things are going well, but then tries to micromanage when things get tougher. Also, staffers are annoyed the Clintons go to those outside the campaign for strategy tips, which they say muddies her messaging. In contrast, Mr. Sanders has one clear message of income inequality.
The report of the shake-up is eerily similar to what she did in 2008, when she was competing in the Democratic primary against now president Barack Obama.
On Feb. 10, 2008, Mrs. Clinton’s then-campaign manager Patti Solis Doyle stepped down, a day after Mr. Obama won four primary contests — Nebraska, Washington, Louisiana and the U.S. Virgin Islands — and two days before the so-called “Potomac Primary” of Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C., where Clinton’s campaign predicted she wouldn’t fare well.
At the time, Ms. Solis Doyle’s downfall was partly attributed to the “air of inevitability” she projected onto the campaign — that Mrs. Clinton would be assured the nomination. That attitude, in part, led Ms. Solis Doyle to underestimate the threat of Mr. Obama.
“There was an assumption that if you were a major donor and wanted to be an ambassador, go to state dinners with the queen — unless you were an outright fool, you were going to go with Hillary, whether you liked her or not,” a Clinton staffer told the Atlantic at the time. “The attitude was ‘Where else are they going to go?’”
In the 2016 election cycle, Mrs. Clinton has also had inevitability problems, even with a new team and management. Robby Mook, a former field organizer of hers in Nevada, is now Mrs. Clinton’s campaign manager.
Still, the campaign seems to have underestimated Mr. Sanders, who only registered in single-digits in national polls last year. The Vermont senator has since come from behind to secure a virtual tie with Mrs. Clinton in Iowa, and is leading by double-digits in New Hampshire.
With the threat of a long nomination slog, the Clinton campaign has stepped up its attacks on Mr. Sanders, with Bill Clinton hitting the trail yesterday saying Mr. Sanders lives in a “hermetically sealed” box.
David Axelrod, who was Mr. Obama’s senior adviser in 2008, said perhaps Mrs. Clinton’s slide isn’t because of her campaign staff, it’s because of her.
“When the exact same problems crop up in separate campaigns, with different staff, at what point do the principals say, ‘Hey maybe it’s US,” Mr. Axelrod tweeted Tuesday.
Mr. Mook, according to Politico, has inspired loyalty within Mrs. Clinton’s campaign, and because of the data-analytics of which he managed, was able to predict Mrs. Clinton was going to win Iowa before the official tally came in. Therefore, Mrs. Clinton was able to quickly go on-air and declare a victory before Mr. Sanders could call the evening a draw, and seize the momentum going into New Hampshire.
Mr. Mook was also credited with building Mrs. Clinton’s ground-game in the Hawkeye State, of which Mrs. Clinton needed every last voter to caucus for her amid Mr. Sanders appeal to younger voters and the disenfranchised electorate outside of the Democratic establishment. In 2008, Mrs. Clinton lost to both Mr. Obama and John Edwards in the first-in-the-nation caucus.
Mr. Mooks’ role is likely to be increased in the campaign, with him taking on digital strategy as well – something the Clintons feel Mr. Sanders is beating them on and thereby attracting the under-30 crowd, Politico said.
It’s the campaign’s pollster and strategist Joel Benenson who was described as being on “thin ice,” as the Clintons have questioned his messaging given the rise of Mr. Sanders.