Clinton allies panic over message

Allies to Hillary Clinton say her presidential campaign’s problems boil down to a fundamental problem: messaging. 

On the heels of a devastating loss to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in New Hampshire on Tuesday night, Clinton supporters having nightmares about a repeat of her 2008 primary loss say it’s time for a change. 

{mosads}They say Clinton has to quickly find her way out of this messaging conundrum and provide voters with a reason why they should elect the former secretary of state and first lady to the Oval Office. 

“I love her but I still don’t understand what her campaign is about,” said one longtime supporter, who argues that the failure to find a singular message for why she should be elected president is a huge issue for Team Clinton.

Clinton was bracing for a loss in New Hampshire.

All week, the campaign set expectations by arguing that the Granite State would be an uphill fight. Sanders is from a neighboring state, they said, and entered with a big lead in polls.

Still, the results in New Hampshire were disconcerting for the Clintons.

Their rival captured a majority of the independent vote, and more Democratic women backed Sanders to boot.

Some supporters appeared to be nearing a stage of panic.

“Something needs to happen. How they let a guy who was so far behind in the polls a few months ago come so close to winning Iowa and killing her in New Hampshire is crazy to me,” one supporter said.

People who have had conversations with the former first couple in recent weeks say Hillary and Bill Clinton agree that messaging has been a problem.

“If I had to take stock, I’d say it’s a big, if not the biggest, problem facing the campaign,” said the longtime supporter. 

Democratic strategists and consultants say that while a “bumper sticker message” or slogan can feel overrated, it can add some much needed direction to a meandering campaign.

“She has not laid out a compelling vision for where she wants to take the country,” said Jamal Simmons, the Democratic strategist who served on Al Gore’s presidential campaign. “She has put forth some legislative priorities and she may know how all of these pieces come together but voters don’t.”

Clinton’s current slogan is “Fighting for Us,” which is meant to portray Clinton as a warrior and highlight her role as a longtime advocate for working families.  

Simmons said the slogan is appropriate, but criticized its effectiveness, saying “it’s a good character trait but it’s not a vision.”

Clinton has also been touting her history-making campaign, highlighting her role as the would-be first woman president as part of her larger message. 

Yet it is unclear this has been effective.

Fifty-five percent of women supported Sanders in New Hampshire on Tuesday night, compared to 44 percent for Clinton.

Young millennial women have not embraced the argument, and the Clinton campaign faced criticism after comments from former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and feminist Gloria Steinem were interpreted as critical of younger women who were backing Sanders. 

“When she’s having a problem capturing women, there’s a problem,” one ally said. “I think it’s time for a bit of a reboot.”

In a brief speech in New Hampshire on Tuesday night, Clinton conceded, “I know I have some work to do, particularly with young people.”

A memo from campaign manager Robby Mook on Tuesday said the campaign has “built first-rate organizations in each state and we feel very good about our prospects for success.”

The Democratic contest now turns to Nevada and South Carolina, which are seen as more favorable territory for Clinton.

She holds large leads in both states and allies maintain she’ll be boosted by minority support.

In the memo, Mook stresses the race has a number of battles remaining.

The first four early states, he writes, “represent just four percent of the delegates needed to secure the nomination; the 28 states that vote (or caucus) in March will award 56 percent of the delegates needed to win.”

Chris Lehane, a Democratic strategist who served as a senior adviser to Ready for Hillary, the super-PAC created to draft Clinton into the 2016 election, said he doesn’t see a broad messaging problem. 

At the same time, he argues the Clinton campaign “needs to make sure the message is breaking through on a day in and day out basis.”

A former aide argued Clinton is spending too much time shifting from one daily message to another. 

“Rather than writing one book with chapters, they seem to be writing many short stories,” the former aide said, adding that it’s similar to way the Obama White House has operated.

“On the campaign trail in 2008 and 2012, Obama always told a story about himself and America — where we are and where we are going,” the former aide said. “In the White House, he always failed to do that.”

Clinton has improved in many ways since 2008, her allies say. 

She’s appeared in smaller settings to connect one on one with voters, and she’s showed off her wealth of knowledge on the issues. 

She’s also been able to show a warm and more empathetic personality, supporters say. 

Still, these allies argue that when it comes to her messaging, Clinton’s past is still her present.

Asked about her messaging in 2016, one longtime adviser reiterated themes that were conveyed to the campaign in 2008.

“The ultimate goal is to strike a chord in the soul of the electorate, to make an almost emotional connection that associates Hillary in their minds with optimism and confidence,” the adviser recommended. 

Tags Al Gore Bernie Sanders Bill Clinton Hillary Clinton Iowa Nevada New Hampshire South Carolina
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