DICK MORRIS’ ’08 PLAY-BY-PLAY
Volume 1, #33
August 24, 2008
HOW THE CLINTONS FINESSED OBAMA
By sulking in his tent, Bill Clinton has finessed Barack Obama into making the biggest mistake of his candidacy – failing to name Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius as his running mate.
The key to the Clinton game is that they understood, from the beginning, that Obama would not name Hillary to be his VP. They realized that she had far too much baggage and that they came as a package and Bill certainly had too much. They knew that the bad blood between the two camps was such that it was highly unlikely that she would be on the ticket.
That left the Clintons with two objectives:
a. they needed to be sure that no other woman would be nominated; and
b. they had to do what they could to stop Obama from winning
Bill and Hillary need to keep the former first lady at the head of the class among Democratic women. Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic speaker of the House is a real threat to her supremacy. They didn’t want another woman to vault over Hillary’s head to the top of the list. They had to prevent Obama from nominating Sebelius.
Obama needed Sebelius on the ticket. His key problem right now is his inability to carry women with nearly the level of support that a Democrat needs to win. In the latest Zogby poll, for example, he is running only two points stronger among women than among men. Normally, at this stage, a Democratic presidential candidate should be at least ten to fifteen points further ahead among women than among men. The fact that there is no gender gap is Obama’s chief strategic problem. The Fox News poll confirms these findings. One Hillary voter in five is now backing John McCain for president.
So the Clintons made a big show of negotiating with Obama for prime time speaking slots at the convention and Bill dropped comments indicating that Obama was not ready to be president. Her delegates were encouraged to speak out and demand a roll call and to insist that her name be put in nomination to celebrate what they called “the historic nature” of her candidacy.
But their real goal was to be so in Obama’s face that he didn’t dare to nominate another woman as vice president. By keeping Obama and his staff on egg shells about what the Clintons were doing and thinking, they bluffed them out of turning to a female candidate for vice president.
Had Obama chosen Sebelius, there is nothing the Clintons could have done about it. Hillary would have had to smile and celebrate the promotion of the cause of women. Her delegates might grouse over Obama passing over Hillary to name Sebelius, but women around the nation would have rallied to his ticket. It is exactly what a great many of them wanted: a woman other than Hillary. For her part, Hillary would have found it necessary to be publicly jubilant that a woman was nominated, much as it would have angered her inside. To do otherwise would have been to admit that her feminism was really ambition cloaked in gender.
Now the Clintons can move on to the second item on their agenda: stopping Obama from winning.
They need McCain to win in order for Hillary to run for president in 2012, just as they needed Bush to win in 2004 to pave the way for a Hillary candidacy in 2008. If Obama loses, Hillary can run for the nomination in 2012 on a platform of “I told you so” pointing to her warnings about how Obama could not win and about how the Democrats would be abandoned by women voters if they did not nominate her. McCain would be 76 were he to be re-elected and the voters might be disinclined to give him a second term, should he even seek it.
Their strategy to stop Obama from winning involved two elements: stop him from naming a woman running mate and hog the convention spotlight.
They could not have asked for a better scenario on the vice presidency that unfolded. Not only did Obama name a man, but he chose one born in 1942 – five years older than Hillary – who would be 70 in 2012, borderline too old to run for president. If McCain wins, he’ll likely give old presidents a bad name and it would make things so much harder for Biden to run. So Hillary not only escaped a woman VP but Obama picked a running mate not likely to pose a future threat to her ambitions.
In the meantime, they used the fact that Hillary would not be vice president to pry from Obama concession after concession in the convention scheduling. On Tuesday night, a film produced by Harry and Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, Hillary’s favorite filmmakers, will introduce Chelsea who will introduce Hillary who will then speak in prime time. On Wednesday, Bill will also address the convention in prime time. He is buried on the list with a bunch of other speakers, but you know the cable networks will cut away for his speech and likely not for any of the others, except, of course, for Biden’s acceptance speech. On Thursday, Hillary will be there in spirit as the roll call of the states records vote after vote for Mrs. Clinton, showing how Obama edged out the first woman with a chance to be elected so as to run on an all male ticket. Not a scenario geared to attracting female voters.
Geraldine Ferraro, the only woman to run on a major party ticket, is out there saying that Hillary should have had the right of first refusal. Her contention that Obama should at least have asked Hillary will become a focal point for women throughout the country. In rejection, Hillary can become the feminist icon she never was as she was running.
By making the convention one vast effort to portray Hillary as the victim of an oppressive male establishment, the Clintons will have succeeded in emphasizing who is not being nominated: Hillary Clinton.
But beneath it all, there is likely a real anti-Obama rage in the Clinton household. Since Obama won, he has dissed the Clintons personally in every way he could. Hillary was not vetted in the vice presidential process. She was never on any short list. Obama did not accept Bill’s invitation to have dinner together. When Hillary offered to campaign for Obama, he sent her to New Mexico and Orlando, not places guaranteed to get national media coverage.
So for the Clinton’s it’s the perfect combination: a male VP, Hillary looking like a victim, Obama hobbled by the absence of a gender gap, and all the face time they could want at the convention itself. In defeat, a win-win-win situation for the Clintons.
NOW WILL MCCAIN NOMINATE A WOMAN?
To complete the process, John McCain should nominate Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison as his running mate. While he is thought to be leaning toward Mitt Romney, naming a woman would completely pull the rug out from under Obama. After Obama has so ostentatiously declined to run with a woman, for McCain to take one on his ticket would be the height of skill.
Hutchison, pro-life and therefore acceptable to the Party base, would represent a statement of McCain’s openness to women and their political goals. She would be a continuing reminder to Hillary supporters of who is not on the Democratic ticket. In a swoop, McCain would open up a reverse gender gap and imperil the chances of the Obama ticket.
Were McCain to put her on his ticket, he would likely leave the two conventions with a good and solid lead that he could use all during the fall.
Unfortunately, the men around McCain are slow to see the attractiveness of the Hutchison scenario. They are so mired in their focus on the Republican base that they can’t look at the larger picture and go after swing voters – especially swing female voters.
The frustration of women with the Obama-Biden ticket would power an outpouring of enthusiasm among female voters for a McCain-Hutchison pairing. And their enthusiasm might just turn this election around.
***COPYRIGHT EILEEN MCGANN AND DICK MORRIS 2008. REPRINTS WITH PERMISSION ONLY***