Published on
the Baltimore Sun

Clinton Squanders Support With Inept, Unseemly Campaign

The big-state primaries in Ohio and Texas are less than a week away, yet Sen. Hillary Clinton has already forfeited.

Oh, she's still running against fellow Sen. Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination - harder and nastier than ever, in fact.

But through a long and growing list of blunders, slights and nefarious maneuvers, Mrs. Clinton has forfeited her right to any remaining benefit of the doubt from Democratic voters.

She forfeited her "readiness to lead" image when she had to reluctantly and belatedly fire Patti Solis Doyle because the Clinton campaign manager's leadership style created a dysfunctional atmosphere for top staffers. Are we to believe the New York senator is ready to "lead on Day One" a massive bureaucracy of recalcitrant federal employees when she cannot properly lead a far smaller staff of dedicated loyalists?

Mrs. Clinton also had to loan herself money for failing to manage her finances properly. When things looked bleak on the eve of the New Hampshire primary, Clinton staffers gave assurances that her campaign was paid in full through the Feb. 5 "Super Tuesday" primaries. But we now know that little, if anything, was budgeted for the 11-state contest to follow because Team Clinton apparently expected to have wrapped up the nomination by then. A $100 million campaign, mind you, is a pittance compared with a $2.5 trillion federal budget.

Then there is the matter of deploying her husband, former President Bill Clinton, to play the race card. Three days before the South Carolina primary, I attended an event at which Mr. Clinton opened his remarks by boasting that the Palmetto State gave him only his second primary win in 1992, at a moment when his nomination seemed imperiled. Yet three days later, on the morning of the primary, Mr. Clinton made a semi-coded reference to the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, the 1984 and 1988 winner of that state's primary, as if to imply that South Carolina merely goes for the black candidate.

Along with the earlier "false premise" and "fairy tale" sneers lobbed at Mr. Obama, Mr. Clinton made plain his willingness to destroy the Democrats' multiracial coalition if he and his wife couldn't lead it.

Mrs. Clinton further forfeits the respect of millions of Democrats when, every time she loses a state nominating contest, her strategists offer some creative new excuse as to why that defeat was irrelevant.

Caucus states don't count. Red states don't count. States in which she didn't mount any serious effort don't count. In short: States that she didn't win and the Democrats who live there? Well, they don't count.

Mrs. Clinton also forfeited the trust of Democrats with her transparent attempt to steal delegates not actually won in the two noncontests in Michigan and Florida. Her campaign agreed last year to the Democratic National Committee's ruling that any state except Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina that moved its primary ahead of Feb. 5 would not have its delegates seated at this summer's Democratic National Convention.

Now she wants to ignore that decision, a ploy that should offend every capital-D Democrat and any small-d democrat disgusted by the 2000 Supreme Court ruling in Bush v. Gore.

Mrs. Clinton is trailing in pledged delegates won thus far. She has won fewer states than Mr. Obama, and fewer total votes cast in those states. Though she leads among superdelegates, five weeks ago she had pledges from 71 percent of all superdelegates announced for either her or Mr. Obama, but that share has slipped to 57 percent. National polls also show her faring worse than Mr. Obama would in potential match-ups with Republican Sen. John McCain in November. A recent Iowa poll shows her trailing Mr. McCain in that swing state by nine points but Mr. Obama leading the Arizona senator by 17 points - a 26-point differential.

The message is clear and becoming clearer: A growing number of Democrats, even those who like Mrs. Clinton personally and respect her as a public servant, have seen enough. They want the Clinton machine to just go away - to forfeit for real.

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Thomas Schaller

Thomas F. Schaller is an associate professor of political science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and author of "Whistling Past Dixie." His column appears Wednesdays in The Baltimore Sun.

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