Clinton Spans Strategic Gamut

Hillary Clinton is not going down without a fight. In the past day, she has visited the Ohio towns of Pomeroy, Rio Grande and Hanging Rock (in Rio Grande she made a pit stop at the original Bob Evans family restaurant, where Chelsea joined her for a meet and greet), as well as Houston, Ft. Worth, and Waco, Texas. After arriving in Ft. Worth on Friday morning at about 2 a.m., Clinton left her hotel bright and early to attend the funeral of a Dallas police officer who died last week in an accident that occurred as he escorted her motorcade to a rally. Her blitz leaves reporters 30 years her junior begging for mercy. And there is no sign of a letup before the polls close in the crucial states of Ohio and Texas next Tuesday night.

But Clinton's strategy at this crucial juncture is about much more than just endurance. She is using every weapon in her arsenal to try to correct the impression--shared, off the record, in hushed conversations with reporters, by members of her staff--that Tuesday could well mark the end of her campaign. The last several days have been like a microcosm of the entire race--with Clinton by turns talking up her experience, pummeling her opponent, appealing for empathy and outwonking everyone in sight.

The traveling press secretary, Jamie Smith, has been sending a steady stream of e-mails in the past couple of days, all of them brimming with sunny news. Today, the traveling press got a message from Smith summarizing a new Pew poll that shows more Americans believe Hillary Clinton is tough and experienced than believe that about Barack Obama. The poll also showed more voters say Clinton has provided enough information about her policies and plans. Yesterday, Smith sent out excerpts of letters from devout supporters. Ann, of Beacon, N.Y., shared that while her "husband has been out of a job for 6 months … he insisted that I send Hillary a donation. It was only $25 but it comes from our hearts."

The Clinton camp is also trying to raise expectations as high as possible for the opposition. Under the subject heading "Obama Must-Wins," the campaign asserted, "The media has anointed Barack Obama the presumptive nominee and he's playing the part. With an 11-state winning streak coming out of February, Senator Obama is riding a surge of momentum that has enabled him to pour unprecedented resources into Texas, Ohio, Rhode Island, and Vermont. The Obama campaign and its allies are outspending us two-to-one in paid media and have sent more staff into the March 4 states … If he cannot win all of these states with all of this effort, there's a problem … The message will be clear: Democrats, the majority of whom have favored Hillary in the primary contests held to date, have their doubts about Senator Obama."

For voters who respond to less subtle forms of persuasion, there's the new Clinton attack ad, unveiled Friday in Texas. It portrays the dangers children face in a dangerous world. "It's 3 a.m., and your children are safe and asleep," the ad opens, over images of sleeping kids. "But there's a phone in the White House, and it's ringing. Something's happened in the world. Your vote will decide who answers the call. Whether it's someone who already knows the world's leaders, knows the military. Someone tested and ready to lead in a dangerous world. It's 3 a.m. and your children are safe and asleep. Who do you want answering the phone?"

The Obama camp wasted little time branding the ad fear-mongering, and some critics say it's reminiscent of LBJ's infamous "Daisy" ad, which depicted a mushroom cloud behind a little girl playing with flowers. Mark Penn, Clinton's chief strategist described the ad as "very positive" on a conference call with reporters Friday. "It has very soft images--not at all like that ["Daisy"] ad--and it poses to people questions they have to answer." In Waco on Friday afternoon, Clinton told a cheering crowd: "Senator Obama says if we talk about national security in this campaign, we're trying to scare people. Well, I don't think Texans scare very easily … There's a big difference between giving speeches about national security and giving orders as commander in chief. There's a difference between delivering a speech at an antiwar rally … and picking up that phone in the White House at 3 in the morning to deal with an international crisis … Senator Obama talks about these issues, but when it came time to act [by voting on Iraq as she did] he was missing in action … By 2004 he was saying he wasn't sure how he would have voted because he never had to."

And just in case voters missed the substance vs. silky rhetoric point, Clinton has been conducting a new policy seminar every day. On Tuesday and Wednesday, deep in the rust belt of Ohio in towns like Zanesville, St. Clairsville and Belpre--where voters at rallies and roundtables spoke of losing their homes to foreclosure and fighting to find work--she focused on the economy. In Zanesville, Clinton held an "Economic Solutions for America Summit" with supporters, including executives, labor leaders, former senator John Glenn and New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine. She held a roundtable, discussing how to address the looming recession and subprime mortgage crisis, among other issues. Staff handed out a 13-page color copy of her updated "Economic Blueprint."

Thursday morning, in Appalachian Ohio, she focused on child poverty. The campaign circulated a 10-and-a-half-page single-spaced briefing on the issue, pledging, among other things, that as president, Clinton would "formally charge the Secretary of Agriculture with developing and implementing a plan to end child hunger by 2012." By Thursday night, in Houston, the focus had shifted to energy and the space race. Friday's topic: national security and veterans. She pledged to enact a new GI Bill, expand low-interest home loans for veterans, and offered a detailed primer on her work with Sen. Barbara Mikulski to reverse President Bush's plan to eliminate the Traumatic Brain Injury Program. (Clinton staffers constantly play up her support among military leaders, saying she has the endorsement of "27 flag officers … [and] four at the four-star level," citing in particular former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Wesley Clark, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff John Shalikashvili and former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff William Owens.

In the face of press reports of her political demise, and Obama's 11-0 run in the most recent contests, Clinton acts as though she believes she can reverse her fortunes through sheer industry: I work, therefore, I can win. "You know, you're so specific," Clinton often hears from voters, according to her speech in Waco. " I say, 'Yes, I am, because I don't want you to take me on a leap of faith … Because ultimately you are hiring a president." She closes most rallies with Dolly Parton's "Nine to Five" to drive the point home.

Will it work? A new Fox poll has Obama up by 3 points in Texas, with Clinton hanging onto an 8-point edge in Ohio. Her husband, unhelpfully, suggested that if she loses both, she's through. Her campaign captains disagree. "If he [Obama] is unable to win all four states [Tuesday], then it shows Democrats are engaged in what some in the media have called buyers' remorse and there is an interest in having this campaign go on," communications chief Howard Wolfson told reporters. "We have two very strong candidates," he said later. "This process is gonna continue." Maybe.

Clinton Spans Strategic Gamut | U.S.