Ryan Lizza writes: This week marks an important anniversary in the political lives of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Eight years ago, Hillary Clinton was dominating the young upstart from Illinois in the Democratic primaries. After a burst of excitement when Obama announced his candidacy, in February, 2007, his campaign flagged over the summer. He was down in the polls, his donors were complaining, and, hard as it is to believe now, he was even losing to Clinton among African-Americans.
“We were trailing in national polls by a wide margin, the pundits were pouncing, and donors were panicking.”
— David Axelrod
“A lot of our supporters nationally were very concerned that we weren’t moving in the national polls,” Larry Grisolano, one of Obama’s top campaign strategists, told me.
Dan Pfeiffer, then the campaign’s deputy communications director, told me, “It’s crazy to think now, but the big narrative was whether Obama was tough enough to take on Clinton and whether he was black enough to win the African-American vote. That’s an actual debate we had in America. You could see the political world placing its bets on Hillary.”
“We were trailing in national polls by a wide margin, the pundits were pouncing, and donors were panicking,” David Axelrod, who was Obama’s top strategist and later became a senior White House adviser, told me.
How did the Obama team turn it around? The conventional wisdom is that he inspired voters with an uplifting message and out-organized Clinton in Iowa and elsewhere. And while it’s true that Obama had a superior organization and an optimistic message, the real beginning of the end for Hillary Clinton was when Obama attacked her greatest vulnerability: her character.
The kill-Hillary strategy began with an October memo that was written by several top Obama officials, including Axelrod, Grisolano, Pfeiffer, the campaign manager David Plouffe, and Joel Benenson, Obama’s pollster. “Joel Benenson was a key contributor to how we stack up against her message-wise,” Grisolano said.
I’ve previously reported on aspects of the memo, but the entire document is being published here for the first time. It offers a fascinating glimpse into campaign strategy, and specifically into the strategy used to defeat Hillary Clinton, who was then, as now, the Democratic frontrunner.
The memo was used to set up a crucial meeting to plot Obama’s fall strategy, which included a debate in Philadelphia and the Iowa Democratic Party’s Jefferson-Jackson Dinner, traditionally one of the most important events in the run-up to the caucuses. Obama and his aides met in a Chicago office building on October 11, 2007. “The memo was written for a big Come-to-Jesus meeting, at which Obama wanted us to review the strategy and lay out our plans,” Axelrod said, adding that Obama “wanted to talk brass tacks about where we were going” and “we had a rigorous discussion around the points in the memo.”
Obama’s strategists argued that the “key premise” of the campaign was that 2008 would be a change election, and that while Hillary was trying to “define this as change from George Bush,” Obama had a broader definition, one that emphasized her weaknesses:
Our construct is much broader and tracks with Americans’ deep discontent with Washington, specifically:
• Its political gamesmanship, where politicians score points by saying what others want to hear, rather than what they need to hear;
• Its divisiveness, which pits Americans against each other and blocks the consensus we need to get things done;
• Its submission to powerful interests that shut out the voices of average Americans.
The only way for Obama to win this argument about change was for him to raise the character issue, which he had tiptoed around until that point in the campaign. Benenson’s polling showed that voters wanted a President “who can unite the country and restore our sense of common purpose,” “stand up to lobbyists,” and “who doesn’t just tell people what they want to hear.” The strategists, addressing Obama, wrote that these qualities “are the ones on which YOU scores high and Hillary, low.” They concluded, “Barack Obama is change. She is not.” Read the rest of this entry »
Police in Olympia, Washington, are looking for two men who assaulted an Air Force officer during a supposedly peaceful protest Sept. 5.
The officer, described as a pilot at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, was stopped in traffic due to the protest when he was singled out by a “local hate group,” which calls itself the “anarchists,” according to a police news release.
“The protesters saw two confederate flags attached to the back of the victim’s motorcycle and surrounded him, rocking the bike in an attempt to knock it over,” the news release said. “They sprayed the victim in the face with mace, and struck him in the back with a baseball bat and a glass bottle filled with red paint.”
Police did not identify the Air Force officer, who suffered “severe eye irritation,” as well as a bruised shoulder and back in the attack, the news release said. A witness who tried to help the officer also was sprayed in the face with mace. Read the rest of this entry »