I received this report from my good friend Louis Perron of Perron Campaigns in Switzerland, who is a very bright young political analyst, whose views I always find informative and interesting. This is his take on how Obama stole the nomination from Hillary. It makes a lot of sense, and chimes with how I felt about Mark Penn and the Clintons campaign.
It’s the message, stupid!
Hillary’s campaign is a perfect example for a mismatch between the political demand and offer. They were running on experience and the achievements of the Clinton administration. The democratic primary electorate, however, was looking for change and fresh faces. During the entire last year, the Clinton team tried to portray Hillary as a stateswoman. The fact that the first woman in the White House would actually mean radical change was never an issue during the campaign. It was only towards the end when Hillary started to bank on that card – when it was already too late.
Obama, on the other hand, had a crystal clear message. It was short, understandable, believable and exactly what voters were looking for at that point in time. Indeed, depending on the surveys there are currently two thirds to three quarters of Americans who think that the country is moving off the wrong track. Further, Obama is a great messenger. I simply don’t know of anyone who watched an Obama speech and who was not deeply impressed.
The value of early surveys
Surveys are never a prediction of electoral results. This is why we have to be very careful with surveys that were taken weeks or even months before the election. The surveys are not wrong but one has to be careful with the interpretation of the results. Early surveys mostly reflect the awareness of the candidates. For the case of the U.S. primaries this means the following thing: Hillary was leading Obama in the surveys during 2007 (sometimes by 30%) simply because she was much more known than he was. During a campaign, voters get new and additional information about the candidates and can quickly change their opinions. Especially in an environment with a volatile public opinion such as in the U.S. it is dangerous to sit on an early lead. But this is exactly what the Hillary team did while Obama and his team were working and fighting.
Successful election campaigns are like a guerrilla attack!
Successful election campaigns – and in particular successful Presidential campaigns – are managed and run by young and hungry people. Someone that has been conducting surveys for the White House for years and who has big lobbying contracts around the world is not enough hungry and aggressive anymore. That’s exactly the case for Mark Penn, who has been conducting the surveys for Hillary until recently. The other people in the Hillary team as well are long-time trustees of the Senator. The result is that the team is not challenging, questioning and fighting enough.
Barack Obama, on the other hand, has an excellent campaign team. David Plouffe, the campaign manager, and David Axelrod (pictured below), the media producer, are known names in the U.S. political consulting industry. However, it is their first chance to make a President and as a result, they are extremely hungry, focused and hardworking.
The Obama campaign has invested massive resources into mobilizing and turning out young voters. It is the only example I am aware of where such an effort focusing on young voters has paid off. It is that strategy which led Obama to a surprise victory in Iowa, which instantly changed the dynamics of the entire campaign.
After Hillary won a comeback a few days later in New Hampshire, the Clinton team expected to knock out Obama on Super Tuesday, February 5. Yet, the race was still a tie once the votes were counted on February 5. While the race was hanging in the balance, there was an important difference between the two candidates. The Obama team was prepared for the next states, while Hillary was not. She had to lend her own money to the campaign in order to continue. Barack Obama, on the other hand, had already opened headquarters in the following states and was on the air with advertisements. It was during that period of time that Hillary lost the nomination.