Hillary Rodham Clinton’s once-vaunted campaign continues to unravel as new polls show her falling farther and farther behind Barack Obama in New Hampshire and campaign contributors take a “wait and see” attitude.
Meanwhile, chaos escalates in the Republican camp where an Iowa win gives Mike Huckabee no help in New Hampshire and a resurgent John McCain becomes the new frontrunner.
A new USA Today poll shows Obama with a 13-point lead going into Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary and McCain with a four-point edge over former front runner Mitt Romney.
“Hillary is in danger of becoming the Howard Dean of 2008,” says one Clinton strategist, referring to the former Vermont Governor who went to Iowa as the presumptive nominee and lost big time to John Kerry. Dean’s campaign never recovered from the blow.
Reports from within the Clinton campaign say staff meetings have turned into shouting matches and finger pointing exercises with strategists trying to shift the blame to others.
Clinton reportedly is unleashing her famous temper on aides she blames for recent setbacks. At a strategy meeting over the weekend campaign aides say she lost it and told chief strategist Mark Penn to “get your fucking act together!”
According to The Washington Post:
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, slipping further behind her chief rival in the Democratic primary here, has taken direct control over her strategy and message as she scrambles to block the ascent of Sen. Barack Obama.
As expected, Clinton is shifting her strategy. Writes Thomas B. Edsall in The Huffington Post:
In an approach redolent of Walter Mondale’s 1984 “Where’s the Beef?” tactic against Gary Hart, Clinton has adopted the less memorable slogan “Rhetoric vs. Results, Talk vs. Action.”
The Clinton campaign is sparing no effort to pressure the media to lean on Obama’s perceived vulnerabilities. Looking to leverage Obama’s slender resume, a Clinton operative argued to HuffPost that the campaign will be able to demonstrate that “Obama is just not a plausible person in this environment of international peril,” and that the longer the primary campaign can be extended, the better chance Clinton will have to prove that “there is not even a second level to Obama, there is no depth.”
The results of this gambit are far from certain. Many political observers here see Hillary on the ropes. “I think Iowa was the best she is going to do. Now she has the stink of a loser on her,” said an official from the upper echelons of the 2004 Democratic campaign. In the upcoming states, voters “are just now starting to pay attention, and all they know is that he [Obama] is a winner and she’s a loser.”
Political analyst Norm Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute warned, “Tactical maneuvering at this point is of limited value, but all [Clinton] may be able to do for the moment is to try tactical stuff, and lash herself to the mast to withstand the [Obama] wave.”
The frustration is not limited to Clinton. Reports The Washington Post:
With just two days to go until the New Hampshire primary, contenders in both parties blanketed the state with campaign events. On the Republican side, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) continued their war of words, with Romney seeking to remind voters about McCain’s unpopular stand on immigration legislation.
Despite being outwardly optimistic, Romney advisers are well aware that a loss Tuesday after defeat at the hands of former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee in Iowa on Thursday would unravel their carefully plotted route to the nomination. A new CNN/WMUR poll, released after a heated Saturday night debate in which Romney was peppered with criticism from his rivals, showed McCain maintaining a narrow lead over Romney.
That poll also showed Obama (Ill.) opening up a significant lead in the state, suggesting a major bounce in support following his win in the Iowa caucuses, where Clinton (N.Y.) finished third.
Frustrated by her campaign’s reaction to the defeat, Clinton ordered her advisers Sunday to reorient their message to more aggressively focus on the idea that Obama is all talk and no action.