Retiring With Dignity

From the moment the news dropped that Bill Clinton was talking up North Carolina, the entire situation struck me as kind of odd.  My colleague,Dustin, covered it during this weekend, but I wanted to take a second look at the situation because I happen to think that Dustin’s title is particularly accurate.

Immediately upon seeing the first headlines, something that Melissa McEwan had once said came ringing back to the forefront of my mind.  It was during one of the many spats between the Obama faction of the Democratic party, and the Clinton faction,   She said:

You know how I’ve been saying that your attempts to pressure Clinton out of the race make it impossible for her to drop out without looking as though she were bullied, and how the last thing anyone with the most basic sympathy for gender equality should want for the first ever viable feminist female presidential candidate is to see her bullied out of the race, of which Clinton is certainly aware, so even the appearance of bullying will make her more entrenched and less inclined to appear as though she allowed herself to be pushed to the sidelines? Yeah:

At the time, the comment struck me as being off, to say the least.  The whole point behind the big push for her to drop out of the race was that her perceived stance was one of someone who would not drop out under any circumstances.

But fast forward to North Carolina, and the first thing that strikes me is how big of a departure from Team Clinton’s MO Bill Clinton’s words were.  Following Super Tuesday, the Clinton campaign essentially pulled out of every contest it didn’t think it could win.  It was the game of lowered expectations pushed to its limits; the intent being to conserve resources, focus those resources on contests the Clinton campaign could win, while at the same time minimize any kind of accrued momentum that Obama would gain.

Unfortunately for the Clinton campaign, the gambit resulted in Obama stacking up what would become an insurmountable pledged delegate lead, and they had to adjust.  Patti Solis Doyle was out as campaign manager, and Maggie Williams was in.

The Clinton campaign then actually competed in Wisconsin, but it was too little too late.

Since then, the Clinton MO may have tweaked itself a little bit, but it has never abandoned playing the expectations game to its benefit.  Looking at what we have seen to this point, it shouldn’t be too terribly difficult to predict how the campaign would handle the upcoming contests in North Carolina and Indiana.

With Obama enjoying a substantial double digit lead in North Carolina (according to some polls his lead is over twenty), the Clinton campaign should have written the state off as being unwinnable.  Meanwhile, polls are showing Indiana to be a very close contest, and one that Clinton could win if she put the effort in.  Thus, according to the Clinton blueprint, the way to play these two states is to declare Indiana a must-win state for Obama while lowering the expectations in North Carolina to the point where the Clinton could paint a realistic performance in the state as a big win.

With the state of the race being what it is, any gambit is risky for someone still looking to carve out a win, but to paint North Carolina as a must win state for Clinton is not only antithetical to her own historical record on political strategy, but general political common sense taken as a whole.

The chief surrogate of the Clinton campaign is calling a state that the Clinton campaign can’t win a state that they must win.

Admittedly, the stakes in North Carolina are much higher than even that; mathematically Clinton must win in that state by a bare minimum of 20-30 points while posting a similar lead in Indiana, and Clinton’s statement does take the focus away from the math and puts it back on simple win vs. loss columns.  In this context, if the Clinton campaign does eke out a narrow win, however unlikely that may be, it could provide the kind of media coverage that would allow her to at least keep her campaign going at least a little bit longer.

But I don’t think that’s possible.  More importantly, I don’t believe that her campaign thinks it’s possible either.

Much more likely, Bill Clinton just handed Obama the opportunity that neither campaign has been able to capitalize off of so far; a knockout punch.  By raising instead of lowering expectations in North Carolina, the Clinton campaign has set up a situation where all Obama has to do is win North Carolina by any margin.

Melissa may have been right.  Hillary Clinton may have needed to be beaten honestly in this race instead of being pushed out by party elders, and this could very well be it.

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