February 21, 2008

Why Did Bill Clinton Admit That Texas and Ohio Are Must-Win States?

James Carville, Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign strategist and a Hillary Clinton supporter, made news at the International Builders Show on February 13th by admitting that Ohio and Texas were must-win states for Hillary's presidential campaign:

"She’s behind. Make no mistake. If she loses either Texas or Ohio, this thing is done."

Some bloggers questioned whether Carville knew there were reporters in the room, or whether this was a moment of unusual candor from a political operative.  But Carville went on to repeat this on CNN, and tomorrow's New York Times reports that Bill Clinton has been saying the same thing in front of Texas crowds:

“You probably like it that it has come down to Texas,” Mr. Clinton said Wednesday while campaigning for Mrs. Clinton in Beaumont, Tex. “If she wins Texas and Ohio, I think she will be the nominee. If you don’t deliver for her, then I don’t think she can be. It’s all on you.”

So this was no slip-up by Carville; it is a coordinated message from the Hillary's campaign. At first glance, it appears that this is a risky strategy, as the Times goes on to say,

Given the tendency for campaigns to lower expectations, Mr. Clinton’s comments about the importance of the Democratic presidential primaries in Ohio and Texas are particularly surprising and could add to pressure on Mrs. Clinton to drop out if she loses either state.

There are two explanations for this.  The simple one is that the Clintons are working to increase turnout among their base by making sure that supporters know the stakes are high.  But the more strategic reason is that the Clinton campaign knows that with Hillary's campaign faltering, if pundits and superdelegates were not looking forward to  those states that they call "must-win," they would be talking more about what's already happened: the Clinton campaign has fallen so far behind that they probably can't catch up.  This is a conclusion that some superdelegates are coming around to now that Obama has 150 more committed delegates than Clinton, and with today's victory among Democrats Abroad, has won 11 contests in a row.

In short, the Clintons are doing everything they can to focus attention on the March 4th contestsand off what's already happened.

By Will Friedman in Politics, Strategy | Permalink  | 


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