Richard Allen Greene, who is filling in for Ben Smith over at the Politico's 2008 Democrats blog, passes on the details of a new memo chief Clinton strategist Mark Penn wrote in response to a memo from the Obama camp on its fundraising strength, and it appears that Penn is making a rather interesting comparison about his candidate.
Obama strategist David Plouffe released a memo last week arguing that Hillary Clinton's advantages were essentially those of incumbency, that her support was thin, and that Obama should actually be considered the front-runner.
Mark Penn, Clinton's chief strategist, responded today with a memo that seemed designed to bludgeon all opposition into senselessness through the sheer power of numbers (links to 40 polls showing Hillary in the lead!)
Penn strongly implies another i-word is the best description of Hillary -- not "incumbent," but "inevitable."
In recent election cycles, any time a candidate has had as much as 35 or 40 percent of the vote consistently across polls in a multi-candidate field, that candidate has gone on to win the nomination. In the last race, Joseph Lieberman was in the teens at this point while Walter Mondale's numbers in the 1984 Democratic primary were comparable to Hillary's now.
I'm not entirely sure of the wisdom of this line of argument. Does he want Hillary backers to think of her as the Mondale of 2008? Sure, Mondale got the nomination but.... [emphasis added]
I must say that if I were a strategist for a presidential campaign I probably wouldn't be likening my candidate to Walter Mondale, even if the comparison is warranted (and I'm not clear that it is, as I'll talk about in a moment). After inching to a nomination that was expected to be his at least somewhat easily Mondale was trounced in the general election by 18 points. Is Penn insinuating that that's the road he sees for Clinton? Barely winning in the primaries after having already secured the support of the Democratic Party elite, only to be creamed in the general election?
But the comparison between Clinton and Mondale is not a perfect one -- and the differences are ones that make Clinton look relatively weaker. For instance, while Mondale was able to use his superior fundraising to eventually defeat Hart -- by the end of May 1984, when the nomination battle was in full swing, Mondale had raised twice as much as Hart (18 million to $9 million) -- Clinton has actually been outraised by a fairly large margin in primary dollars by Obama. Even with the large transfer Clinton made from her Senate campaign to her White House campaign, she still does not have nearly enough cash to swamp Obama as Mondale was able to do to Hart in 1984. And, in fact, if the fundraising numbers continue at about the same pace, Obama might be able to swamp Clinton, or at least force her to spend more and earlier than she had initially hoped to.
This is not to say that Clinton's lead in polling, both nationally and in a number of the early states, does not make her at least somewhat of a favorite at this point for the Democratic nomination. But as noted above Fritz Mondale only limped, rather than ran, across the finish line in 1984 after once appearing to be the prohibitive favorite -- and even then he was only able to do so after greatly outspending his younger, forward-looking, new politics challenger, Gary Hart. And this time, though Penn doesn't mention it, Clinton won't be able to throw relatively as much cash at her problems, should they arise, as did Mondale.