Hillary Clinton should have won Wisconsin. The way she lost it does not bode well for her make or break stand in Ohio.
Barack Obama took the Potomac primaries in Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C. by expanding his base of African Americans, young people and high wage earners. By contrast, Wisconsin had few minorities and millions of struggling blue collar voters. And its female vote was disproportionately high. Worse still for Obama, just before Wisconsin's primary he failed to credit Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick for a borrowed speech, prompting claims of plagiarism from the Clinton campaign. Then Michelle Obama said she was really proud of her country for the first time in her adult life, prompting a rebuke from Cindy McCain.
So even before the vote, Obama's campaign called Wisconsin the "No Excuse" primary. Meaning Hillary Clinton could have no excuse for losing.
Yet she did lose Wisconsin by a crushing 17 points, and she lost every voting bloc except older white women. Worst of all, Senator Clinton had not put herself in a position to compete.
The former first lady never expected to be trudging through Wisconsin. Her plan was to win early and often. That's why Clinton agreed to exclude Florida and Michigan delegates after those states defied the Democratic Party and moved up their primaries. Now she is trying to get those delegates seated, even though in Michigan hers was the only leading name on the ballot.
Clinton spent virtually all her funds on the run-up to Super Tuesday and then had to lend the campaign $5 million of her own money. That campaign is a top down operation. While Barack Obama drew on his experience as a community organizer in Chicago and set up field offices throughout the country, Clinton had to scramble after Super Tuesday to deploy even skeletal staffs.
Campaigns often reflect the mindset of candidates. Rudy Giuliani, an opera buff, dramatically bet everything on Florida. Mitt Romney consulted pie charts and figured he had to reposition himself as a Christian conservative. Mike Huckabee really is one, but advertising himself as a Christian leader limited his appeal.
Despite her claims of 35 years of experience, Hillary Clinton's actual managerial experience is meager but telling. She has not chaired any major Senate committee. She did not manage her Arkansas law firm. She did manage President Clinton's stab at universal health care. Opponents and even many supporters complained that Hillary's plan was written mostly behind closed doors with a few trusted aides like Harold Ickes and Ira Magaziner. President Bush is accused of valuing loyalty and secrecy above all else, but the same is being said of Hillary Clinton. That proposal for nationalized health care offended so many Republicans and Democrats that it helped the GOP retake Congress for the first time in 40 years.
After 1994, Hillary Clinton maintained a far lower profile within the White House until becoming her husband's chief defender during the Paula Jones-Monica Lewinsky scandal. She then ran two senate campaigns in New York against nominal opposition.
In his one U.S. Senate campaign, Barack Obama faced weak opposition too. And if general election voters are swayed by legislative experience, and a demonstrated ability to reach across party lines, neither Obama nor Clinton will measure up against the co-author of McCain-Feingold, McCain-Lieberman and McCain-Kennedy, whatever you might think of those bills.
But first they have to win their nominations. As she did in New Hampshire, Hillary Clinton could again be the Comeback Kid by winning Texas and Ohio on March 4th. Her new theme is that she offers not just speeches but hard work, to bring work back to hard hit states like our own. Not inspiration but perspiration. This time no one claims it'll be easy.