One unusual aspect of Super Tuesday that seems to have gone unnoticed is that despite the national popular vote splitting so evenly at 48%-48%, very few of the state primaries and caucuses were actually all that close at all.
Of 22 Democratic primaries and caucuses, only six were decided by a margin of ten points or less, and only three were actually close, coming within a margin of five points or less. Why? Because most of these states simply weren't even contested. The Clinton campaign had television ads running in only half the February 5th states, and there were numerous states in which they didn't bother to run an active field campaign.
The Clinton campaign made clear that it planned to win Super Tuesday based on a tight four-state strategy, focusing on California, New York, New Jersey, and Arkansas, which, they frequently cited, made up 40% of the delegates assigned --- a strange strategy in a system that isn't winner-take-all. Clinton's name recognition and her general support level across the country would have to hold her up in the vast swaths of the country that she had already conceded.
This strategy of focusing hard on winning the biggest states turned out to be one of this campaign season's great blunders, and it is one that the Clinton campaign seems to make repeatedly. The Obama campaign has repeatedly found ways to get ahead in the delegate count, out-organizing rural areas of Nevada to win an extra delegate while the Clinton campaign won Clark County, and then repeating that success to run a field campaign across 22 states that kept the delegate count close in states Clinton won and racked up the delegates in states Clinton did not bother to contest.
The Clinton campaign has responded by pleading that its financial resources were stretched --- despite raising over a hundred million dollars in campaign funds over 2007, and despite a loan of $5 million (nearly four times Obama's net worth, by the way) that topped her some $13 million cash on hand and $13.5 million raised in December. That's some $30 million in funds.
It was not a lack of funds that led the Clinton campaign to ignore rural areas, to write off multiple states. Rather, the Clinton campaign seemed oddly unprepared, clinging to a misjudgment, counting on national poll numbers, unwilling to run the expansive grassroots national campaign that the Obama campaign had been preparing for for months.
By the time Super Tuesday was over, it was clear that the Clinton campaign had done little to build organizations in the subsequent primaries and could do little to contest them. Yesterday alone, they fell an additional fifty delegates behind. Ignoring states you think you will lose only means that you lose them more badly --- instead of trying to even up the delegate count.
And that must be the most frustrating part for the Clinton campaign. In many of these states, there is little doubt that they have probably left delegates on the table.
Despite Howard Wolfson's claims post-Iowa that the delegate count was paramount, the Clinton campaign never seemed to act like it, as Obama won a pledged delegate lead in Iowa and simply never let it go, adding a delegate here and a delegate there, slowly running up his count, patiently organizing future contests. There's talk already that this lead in the delegate count is, or soon will be, insurmountable.
The Clinton campaign might just be learning its lesson:
In addition to focusing on the large states -- something Cecil admitted had been their focus -- they are "opening offices" and "hiring staff" in Wyoming, Montana and even Puerto Rico to try to get every delegate possible in "congressional districts where we can be successful."
Though you have to wonder if it might be too late.
Postscript: Actually, Maggie Williams seems to be making almost exactly the same point today, describing the campaign's mistakes:
- That they didn't plan aggressively for small states, which allowed Obama to rack up delegates and project momentum.
- That the campaign will use volunteers in a larger role in the remaining contests.
Can I point something out though? It's great that the Clinton campaign has discovered grassroots campaigning, but its examples are a little scary: sure, Wyoming votes on March 8th, but Montana votes on June 3rd and Puerto Rico on June 7th.