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January 19, 2007
Hillary Loyalists Mostly Loyal

The New York Sun reports that some Clinton administration officials have decided to seek employment in other campaigns rather than join their old bosses. While Hillary's campaign says this reflects prior ties to the other candidates, one has to wonder what kind of time frame predates 1993:

One of the biggest advantages Senator Clinton enjoys as she launches her presidential bid is the vast web of politically active Democrats who worked in the federal government under her husband, President Clinton. But not everyone who served during the Clinton years is promoting a reprise.

A handful of top Clinton administration officials and a smattering of lower-ranking ones have taken up with Mrs. Clinton's rivals for the Democratic nomination. Most cite pre-existing personal or professional loyalties. In some instances, however, the Democratic activists seem to have concluded that they will have more of an impact in the leaner ranks of a rival campaign than in the hierarchy of Mrs. Clinton's long-planned bid. And a former White House counsel to Mr. Clinton, Abner Mikva, told The New York Sun he thought the candidate he is backing, Senator Obama, has a better chance of winning than Mrs. Clinton does. The highest-ranking defectors include a political aide who shadowed Mr. Clinton for years and is advising Senator Dodd of Connecticut, Douglas Sosnik; a former secretary of commerce now backing Senator Obama of Illinois, William Daley, and a former chief of staff to Vice President Gore now in the camp of Senator Biden of Delaware, Ronald Klain.

"Most of the people have some sort of pre-existing connection or relationship," a former Clinton White House aide, Christopher Lehane, said. He said he doubted there were hard feelings in those circumstances, though there might be in cases where people had no obvious prior ties to one of Mrs. Clinton's rivals. "There are different gradations to all of this," Mr. Lehane added.

A former White House lawyer and longtime friend of the Clintons, Lanny Davis, said he knew of no one who worked on Mrs. Clinton's staff and was now backing another candidate. "I don't know of any defections," he said. "That says a lot about her as a human being." One of the challenges Mrs. Clinton faces in trying to maintain the loyalty of mid-level operatives is that so much of her campaign operation has been lined up for years. "That bus is full," one Democratic consultant, Joseph Trippi, told The New York Sun recently.

Well, opportunity for greater leadership roles certainly could be one reason to switch teams, as well as a full bus at Hillary's campaign, at least in the higher echelons. However, looking at the candidates where the defectors landed, one has to wonder how that makes any sense. Does anyone besides Christopher Dodd think he stands a chance next to Hillary, Obama, or John Edwards? Leaving the Hillary campaign to jump on the Dodd or Joe Biden bandwagon means leaping from the first to the third tier of candidates, bypassing the second level altogether.

The explanation of precedence sounds fishy as well. Bill Clinton served as President from 1993 - 2001, and Hillary has served in the Senate since before Bill's last day in office. It's hard to imagine that people who worked with the Clintons for up to thirteen years would suddenly recall that they worked for Biden sometime previous to that, and that that employment creates an obligation that overrides a desire to work for Hillary. It sounds more like a convenient excuse to avoid something (or someone) unpleasant, at least for a while.

The "full bus" argument makes a little more sense, but the Sun dashes a little cold water on that notion as well. Rahm Emanuel, for instance, had openly endorsed Hillary and pledged himself to her election -- but lately, he has retreated from that position. Now he's "torn" between Obama and his endorsee and won't commit either way. Sources within Hillary's campaign tell the Sun that if Gore decides to enter the race (which he has not completely ruled out), the exodus would be significant. Plenty of seats would exist on the bus after that, and ridership would apparently not rebound much.

Most of this is politics as usual, but Hillary's unique position in history makes this a little different. Staffers have the near-singular opportunity to return to the White House, the pinnacle of political careers, for essentially a third Clinton term, with Hillary as a front-runner. One would expect those who worked in the previous administration to maximize their opportunity to return to the top, but instead a number of them have chosen to align themselves with also-rans. That seems a little curious, and perhaps a bit revealing as to the atmosphere in the Clinton campaign.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at January 19, 2007 6:15 AM

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