What Exactly Went Wrong For Clinton In any other year, Hillary Clinton would have won the Democratic nomination, says Politico.com's Roger Simon. He breaks down the Clinton campaign's missteps — at the forefront, a simple lack of staff experience.
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What Exactly Went Wrong For Clinton

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What Exactly Went Wrong For Clinton

What Exactly Went Wrong For Clinton

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Roger Simon is chief political columnist for politico.com. He filed a seven part story this week with the overt title, Relentless. It is the story of how Barack Obama won the nomination and, as interestingly, why Hillary Clinton lost. Roger Simon, welcome to Day to Day.

Mr. ROGER SIMON (Chief Political Columnist, Politico.com): Hey, thank you very much.

CHADWICK: This is the story of one campaign that worked very well and one that didn't. Hillary Clinton lost this nomination as much as Barack Obama won it.

Mr. SIMON: It's true. If it had been any normal political cycle, any normal presidential year, Hillary Clinton probably would have won. The trouble for her came that this was not an ordinary political year, and not just because she was running against a magnetic candidate, who had a pretty compelling message, the message of change, but because he had put together a highly professional, highly experienced campaign staff, that understood the complicated rules of delegate selection of the Democratic Party.

CHADWICK: You report, in an introduction to this piece, that you talked to about 25 senior people from both campaigns. You quote David Axelrod, the leader of Senator Obama's effort, saying, we had to run a perfect campaign. That's what he thought going into it. They didn't run a perfect campaign, but they were amazingly adroit.

Mr. SIMON: That's right. They assumed, as I think much of the media assumed, that the Clinton campaign was going to be a true juggernaut. And when it collapsed I went back and talked to the people directly involved, and they knew it was not a juggernaut. The word they used repeatedly, and I'm talking her top people, more than a dozen of them, the word they used repeatedly is that the campaign was dysfunctional.

They had some big names running their campaign, but when I just went through the simple process of checking out their biographies, I found that their campaign manager, Patti Solis Doyle, had never worked in a presidential campaign before. Their deputy campaign manager, Mike Henry, had never worked in a presidential campaign before. Even Howard Wilson, who became a media superstar, he was her communications director, he had never worked in a presidential campaign before.

CHADWICK: But well...

Mr. SIMON: If you go through the list of Obama people, the top four, five, six people had not just worked in presidential campaigns before, but they worked in that critical area which gets very little attention, but is absolutely essential, and that's called field operations. It means going into states, setting up shop, organizing, getting people door knocking, getting people calling and getting delegate victories.

CHADWICK: These people knew how to win campaigns on a local level. Importantly, very significant figures had a lot of experience in Iowa. He set his sights on winning Iowa very early.

Mr. SIMON: What I found fascinating in doing this reporting is that both campaigns had the same Plan A. The Plan A was, win the first four states, attain a political victory, and not be out of personnel.

CHADWICK: There'll be nobody left after you win the first four. There's no opposition left. Bang! You're there.

Mr. SIMON: That's right. And it's not a brilliant Plan A. It's pretty obvious. The difference came in what happened next. Nobody got their Plan A. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama split the first four states. But Barack Obama had a Plan B that was not only on the drawing boards but, in effect, staffed up, people working. And Hillary Clinton never did. Also, he had saved his funds for a Plan B, when she had spent an enormous amount of money; 29 million dollars she spent, just in Iowa. And, really, they never climbed out of that hole.

CHADWICK: You write that you spoke with three people, senior strategists for Senator Clinton who, fairly early on this year, went to her and said, there's a problem with this campaign, things are not working. And in each instance it got back to these senior people from her campaign manager, you've been complaining to the candidate that things aren't working. Don't say that again. Don't go to her with these kinds of complaints. I was very surprised when I read that.

Mr. SIMON: Yes, that's true. And it goes directly against what Hillary Clinton has said publicly which she - which is that she didn't know that her campaign people were not up to the task. And the fact is, I quote on the record and by name, both Patti Solis Doyle, the campaign manager, and Howard Wolfson, communications director, as saying all major decisions were signed off on by Hillary Clinton, and anyone who knows Hillary Clinton knows that she knew what was going on. And then I quote three people, each one saying, look I went to her directly and said this campaign is screwed up and you have to do something. And instead, what they got told by Patti Solis Doyle, was to shut up and don't complain to the candidate again. Now, if you're a candidate and you've been told that you have major problems, you've got to address them. And, honestly, Hillary Clinton eventually did address some of them. But by then it was much too late.

CHADWICK: At the end of your series, you report that Barack Obama started moving into the general campaign very carefully and very quietly, months and months ago, long before the battle for the nomination was actually resolved and concluded. That's where he is now. Is he smart enough to win the national campaign? What's his plan now?

Mr. SIMON: Barack Obama's campaign was - its public face was one of inspiration. But right behind the public face, it was all about arithmetic. Yes, you will have an inspirational message, but behind that public message is a team of highly experienced people who have one goal in mind: get to 270 electoral votes.

CHADWICK: Roger Simon, chief political columnist for Politico.com. His thorough and fascinating series of pieces on what happened in the Democratic Party this year is at politico.com/relentless. Roger, thank you.

Mr. SIMON: Hey, thank you so much.

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