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Defying the Odds

Defying the Odds
New book about the 2016 election.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Clinton Strategy: All About the Delegates

In the 2008 nomination contest, the Clinton campaign made a fatal strategic mistake.  We explained in Epic Journey:
"...Obama's post-Iowa strategy was all about delegate arithmetic...The Clinton campaign's strategy was different.  A staff member told journalist Roger Simon: “They thought it was all about winning states and not delegates.”
As I  wrote in The Art of Political Warfare:  "If winning can be debilitating, losing can be educational."  Clinton learned the lessons of her 2008 defeat and adjusted accordingly.  Karen Tumulty writes at The Washington Post that Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook focused relentlessly on the delegate count.  Bernie Sanders did follow Obama's example in one respect:  he did well in caucus states.  But in failing to build his strategy around delegate arithmetic, he repeated Clinton's 2008 mistake.
After his loss in South Carolina, Sanders barely contested delegate-rich states in other parts of the Old South, concentrating instead on places where he could beat Clinton — such as Oklahoma.

That made sense in some way, in that it maintained the appearance of momentum and kept his supporters’ enthusiasm going.

“They were going for wins, instead of spreading out their resources to narrow the margins everywhere,” a key calculation, given the Democrats’ system of proportionally allocating delegates, said one top Clinton campaign aide, giving a frank assessment in return for anonymity.

“It was a strategy for staying in the race. It wasn’t a strategy for winning,” the aide added.

At one point in April, Sanders could count seven victories out of the previous eight contests. But that string of wins did little to cut into Clinton’s delegate lead, thanks to the way the Democrats’ proportional system works. In Wyoming, for instance, he got 56 percent of the vote, but he and Clinton came out with seven delegates each.
Sanders's excellent fundraising forced Clinton to be tight with money.
Clinton had to be careful, for instance, in deciding where to buy television advertising. Instead of running spots in the expensive Dallas market, the campaign bought time in Waco, which was cheaper and had the potential to yield more delegates. Macon, Ga., made more sense than Atlanta because the campaign could reach into more congressional districts while spending less.

“Even though no one would have fathomed it, we ended up being the leaner, meaner campaign and were more efficient,” said spokesman Brian Fallon.

In accumulating delegates, Mook thought there were three big milestones: March 1, a.k.a. Super Tuesday, when there were contests in a dozen states and territories, including Texas and Georgia; March 15, another big round, including Florida, Ohio and Illinois; and a smaller trove on March 26, which would make her lead all but insurmountable.

In retrospect, those contests turned out to be as decisive as she had hoped. As of last weekend, Clinton held a lead of roughly 290 pledged delegates — nearly half of which could be attributed to Texas and Florida alone.