November 1, 2007

Hillary Stumbles, Needs More Cash: Advisors

Hillary Clinton's campaign admitted the scope of her debate debacle in a conference call with supporters yesterday. Despite raising the most amount of money in the campaign thus far -- well over $80 million -- they implored backers to start getting even more money for the work necessary to reverse the damage she did this week:

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s (D-N.Y.) top advisers, doing damage control after the candidate’s debate performance Tuesday, told supporters on a conference call Wednesday that the campaign needed more money to fight back.

Mark Penn, Clinton’s senior strategist and pollster, and Jonathan Mantz, the campaign’s finance director, told the supporters on the call, which The Hill listened to in its entirety, that they expect attacks from Clinton’s rivals to continue, and she will need the financial resources to deflect their attacks.

Clinton came under withering assault in the Philadelphia debate, and some supporters on the call agreed with analysts that she stumbled.

“I wouldn’t say she lost her cool,” one caller said. “But I would say she lost her footing.”

The caller addded that Clinton’s response to questions about records from her time in the White House that have been sealed by the National Archives “made me roll my eyes.”

Analysts convinced of Hillary's inevitability underestimated the damage done with those two answers in the debate. Voters have never seen a candidate contradict themselves in one 120-second period on national television, and thanks to YouTube, the experience has gone viral. Only somewhat less damaging was the answer on her records, in which she blamed George Bush for a seal request made by her own husband -- a request she claims she can't affect.

Not even her own supporters buy that explanation. It has grown so ugly that Mark Penn, her political sherpa, told callers that Hillary's problem was essentially that Tim Russert was unfair by asking the questions. He told callers that female voters should be outraged that men were ganging up on her "six to one" to defeat her -- as if they should give her a pass because of her gender, or not ask tough questions of the frontrunner.

So how much money does Hillary need to undo the damage from her debate performance? And how much more will she need to undo the damage that Penn's whining will do when people hear about it? Maybe the Wall Street Journal could calculate it, but they're busy at the moment noting how some things remain the same after all these years:

In the 1990s, "Clintonesque" became a by-word for political double-speak. We even became, briefly, a nation of deconstructionists when President Bill Clinton mused on the meaning of "is."

Such existential questions seemed to be in the past. But with another Clinton running as if she's all but a sure thing for the White House, Clintonesque is once again becoming a politically relevant adjective. In Tuesday night's Democratic Presidential debate, the moderators and Hillary Clinton's fellow panelists took pains to pin her down on one question after another, without notable success. The junior Senator from New York seems increasingly to have adopted her husband's political methods, minus the savoir-faire. The result is that it's impossible to know what she believes about anything. ...

The political strategy is clear enough. Mrs. Clinton wants to roll to her party's nomination on a tide of "inevitability" while disguising her real agenda as much as possible. But Democratic voters ought to consider whether they want to put all their hopes for retaking the White House on Mrs. Clinton's ability to obfuscate like her husband without his preternatural talent for it. Aside from lacking her husband's political gifts, Hillary's challenge is that we've all seen this movie before. And performances like Tuesday's might be enough to convince voters to opt for a candidate who is his own man.

The debate broke Hillary's double-talking dishonesty out into the open. Despite what Penn thinks, an army of Norman Hsus couldn't get enough money to put the genie back in the bottle.


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