In the days leading up to Crucial Tuesday, a lot is being written about the campaigns of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Many observers are assessing the nature of both campaigns and how both are managed. One would have thought that the Clinton style of campaign would have been better focused, better planned, and more disciplined on message. After all, unlike her husband Bill, she has always shown greater discipline and more raw determination. With high-priced consultants, experienced strategists, and reams of money, this campaign should have ended in principle on Super Tuesday.
What has happened is nothing short of astonishing. The vaunted triangulation and micro trend planning of the Clinton campaign has been directly challenged and upended by a more authentic and macro trend approach. While the Clinton campaign operates on a model of market segmentation and specific messaging to targeted clientele, the Obama campaign responds by an overall campaign direction that is more a movement than the traditional building of an electoral coalition.
The Clinton campaign failed to set the agenda because it assumed that the Clinton mystique would carry the day. It has failed to frame the issue and define the candidate. Their point of departure was Hillary Clinton and she was to be supported by detailed policy position papers, networking and endorsements, and the inevitability of victory. The campaign underestimated their principal opponent and possibly even assumed that the real contender would be John Edwards.
Mrs. Clinton can still win this nomination by pulling off a 'New Hampshire surprise' on Crucial Tuesday. Winning Texas and Ohio and possibly Rhode Island would probably transform her campaign and place Obama on the defensive. But Clinton’s campaign has conducted itself in a more conventional style which now seems out of touch with the desire of the Democratic base for transformational change. Yes, if she wins, she will be the first woman president, but her campaign has brought nothing new.
Obama has been able to show through his inspirational messaging, his savvy use of new media, and his ability to understand that change in this election was based not only on policy but on process. How to conduct politics in a way that empowers the electorate and challenges the electorate to become engaged and act responsibly. It sounds very much like the last macro trend candidate in the Democratic party: Robert F. Kennedy. Over one million donors have contributed to Obama’s campaign and he clearly has the largest and best ground game in this campaign. He has innovated, yet he has kept the best part of traditional campaigning intact and that is, contact with the electorate through grassroots activity and small donations. Surely it helps that the candidate himself comes across as authentic, but this campaign is a reflection of authenticity and purpose. Obama’s chances remain good and whether he wins or loses ultimately, he has clearly demonstrated that to be such a formidable challenger, campaigns count.