After getting a lot of that red, white and blue confetti in her hair and making the victory rounds of nearly every major morning show (looking considerably more pleased than Barack Obama), Hillary Clinton finally has cause to celebrate. She's done what many pundits thought was impossible: revived her huffing-and-puffing campaign, with wins in the delegate-rich primaries of Ohio and Texas. So the candidate who, as recently as Tuesday morning, some pundits were pressuring to drop out of the race has proven once again that she's plenty to contend with. Hillary Clinton: from shoo-in to underdog to comeback kid in about six months flat.
So, after 12 consecutive wins by Obama, how did she pull it off? Here are some of the ways the senator was able to turn her campaign around, regaining enough momentum to fight another round in one of the most closely watched bids for the Democratic nomination in recent history ...
5. Getting Scrappy
It's no secret that early on in the race, Clinton presumed victory. According to both her camp and most media outlets, she was the heir apparent to the Democratic Party. The nomination was hers to lose. This presumption proved both wrong and dangerous, as her camp ultimately did not have a long-term plan to fund what would become a much more drawn-out campaign. (Clinton lent $5 million of her own money to the effort in late January.) Her early front-runner status may also have been the reason some members of the press found her less accessible — and less hungry — than Team Obama, which was perceived as taking an appealingly grassroots, activism-driven approach. This may have been a major reason it was not until her devastating third-place loss in Iowa — mainly because of young and independent voters — that Clinton began seriously pursuing the youth vote.
But a strange turnaround began to take place. Once Clinton began to lose — and lose big, as her consecutive losses began to rack up — she took on a new role in the public eye: underdog. She became more passionate in tone and seemed to speak more frequently of her willingness to "fight" on behalf of the American people. She developed a kind of hard-won, slightly tuckered-out confidence as a result of this struggle, and voters responded to someone more clearly in need of their support.
4. Focusing on Security
Launching herself as the candidate most capable of leading our armed forces set the tone for the stoic Clinton some voters have had trouble relating to.
But once it became clear that John McCain would be the Republican nominee, Clinton returned to her earlier emphasis on national security. She reminded voters that the next president would be a wartime president, and that more than 30 retired admirals and generals have thrown her their support. And she began running a much-talked-about TV spot that played off of parents' fears for their family's safety in a post-9/11 era. "It's 3 a.m.," said the voiceover, "and your children are safe and asleep. But there's a phone in the White House, and it's ringing. Something's happening in the world. Your vote will decide who answers that call."
The approach seems to be working: Exit polls showed that voters in Ohio and Texas overwhelmingly saw Clinton as more qualified to become commander in chief.
3. It's the Economy, Stupid
As it seems more and more likely that our country is headed into a recession — and as this issue receives increasing media attention — the economy, rather than the Iraq war, is emerging as the leading issue in this election. In exit polls, 60 percent of Democratic voters in Ohio and more than half in Texas ranked it as their leading concern. And this week, they demonstrated their belief in Clinton as the one to correct the hard times that lie ahead.
A lot may be at stake for the Democratic Party with this issue. While national security is McCain's strong point, he's unproven where the economy is concerned, leaving room for the Democratic nominee to win over undecided and independent voters. If Obama is unable to brand himself as the candidate who can dig us out of this financial hole, it could become a real hurdle for him as we approach the convention.
2. Playing Tough
While Clinton's long been portrayed as the bad cop to Obama's good cop, her on-the-offensive stance paid off big in Ohio. After dismissive talk of Clinton throwing "everything but the kitchen sink" at Obama in the lead-up to this week's primaries, her swipes at his foreign policy swung voters who were undecided. In both states, Clinton carried voters who picked their candidate within three days of the primary — in Texas, by as much as 2 to 1.
If this were a return to old-school politics — in contrast to Obama's reputation for taking the political high road — it was also a return to pretty effective politics. This also raises the question of whether Obama can handle the kind of negative attacks the Democratic nominee can undoubtedly expect from McCain.
1. Finding Her Identity
In trying to navigate the pitfalls of being a powerful woman in the American spotlight — the pantsuits, the spontaneous "laughter," the cookies (remember Bill's first term?) — Clinton has tried hard to warm up her public persona. But along the way, it became hard to tell which side would make an appearance at any given debate. In late February, she used her closing remarks in the Austin, Texas, debate to announce, in heartwarming tones, how she was "so honored" to be campaigning alongside Obama. But the very next day, she was crying, "Shame on you!" to the Illinois senator for mailing out misleading information about her health care plan. Being rigid in large arenas can be hazardous for any politician, but being unpredictable — and therefore inauthentic — may be worse. How are voters to feel that they know the "real you"?
Recent appearances, however, have revealed a more confident Hillary, at ease in her own skin. When last weekend, just days before the primaries, "Saturday Night Live" opened its show with comedienne Amy Poehler's impression of the senator, Clinton herself appeared to give her official "editorial response" to the skit — and in the process, finally owned up to just how socially awkward her laugh can be. The appearance went over big, most likely because few viewers could believe that Hillary would be able to take the joke. And on the eve of the primaries, Clinton stopped by "The Daily Show" — and jokingly admitted to Stewart that it was "pretty pathetic" for her to appear on his show on such an important night.
Confident, comfortable and a self-deprecating sense of humor? Has Clinton finally earned voters' sympathy?
Clinton is now clearly in for the long haul, but critical questions remain: Will her new momentum actually be able to stop Obama? What will happen in the next major primary, on April 22 in Pennsylvania? And, after all the buzz about the primaries, will the Democratic nominee actually have to be decided by superdelegates?
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