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February 04, 2014 3:36 PM Hillary and the Inevitability Factor

By Ed Kilgore

Ben Smith and Ruby Cramer of Buzzfeed got several former and present members of the Obama political team to trash Hillary Clinton’s aborning 2016 campaign as representing a reprise of her flawed 2008 strategy:

Top advisers and former aides to Barack Obama say Hillary Clinton is repeating the mistakes she made in 2008, building a machine in lieu of a message and lumbering toward the Democratic nomination with the same deep vulnerabilities that cost her the nomination eight years earlier.
The former secretary of state has offered her tacit blessing to a series of Democratic organizations, including a draft group, Ready for Hillary, which was recently taken over by a former Clinton aide, and Priorities USA Action, the Obama super PAC repositioning itself to raise huge sums for Clinton. The moves have been effective in telegraphing to other would-be candidates that they may have a hard time raising money and building an organization, and in establishing the sense of inevitability that was central to her 2008 campaign — a perception that also backfired badly.
“I just don’t see any strategic value in stories positioning her as inevitable or the preemptive nominee, and I don’t think people who are out there talking about this help her, and I think she should make that clear,” said Joel Benenson, Obama’s chief campaign pollster and now the top White House pollster. “She doesn’t need this. If she decides to run for president, everybody knows she’s going to be able to raise money, everybody knows she’s going to be extremely formidable, that she’s going to have a significant network of supporters around the country — so what’s the value of all this in 2014?”
In 2008, that sense of inevitability had tactical consequences: her positions drew more scrutiny than her rivals’, and observers developed a rooting interest in the underdog, while donors and operatives who hadn’t gotten in on the Clinton ground floor 20 years earlier went elsewhere. And Obama aides, who outmaneuvered the Clinton juggernaut seven years ago, see similar weaknesses developing already.

I dunno about all this. There is really no comparison between HRC’s poll standings among Democrats going into 2008 and where they are now. In 2008 she walked into a trap in Iowa, where she faced one rival who basically never stopped campaigning there after 2004 and another whose national fame was supplemented by proximity (for himself and his volunteers) in an adjacent state. She then spent an inordinate amount of money losing there—money that wasn’t available for the low-turnout caucus events around the country that ultimately gave Obama his margin of victory.

So in promoting the “inevitability” narrative in 2008, the Clinton campaign was writing checks its organization couldn’t cash. Now Team Hillary almost certainly can. There won’t be a 2016 rival with a pre-existing Iowa campaign, or anyone with Barack Obama’s outsized appeal and historical character (not to mention a next-door base).

Don’t get me wrong: Clinton does need a fresh message and rationale for candidacy, and she does need to put together a serious Iowa campaign (the fact that Ready for Hillary has already retained the services of 2008 Obama Iowa director Jackie Norris and Clinton’s own 2008 director, the legendary Teresa Vilmain, is a good sign). Money and buzz alone will not win a presidential nomination. But there’s nothing at all wrong with them if the other ingredients are present.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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