Even before New Hampshire voters went to the polls, Democratic presidential aspirant Hillary Clinton was reduced to tears by her faltering campaign. Once considered inevitable, the Clinton campaign suffered early setbacks shifting the discussion from when she’ll lock up the nomination to when she’ll shutter the campaign offices.
Perennial presidential campaign advisor, the losing Bob Shrum thinks that Hillary’s mistake was to focus on being “ready” when what the voters apparently wanted was “change” – the two competing themes in the monosyllabic Democratic presidential primary. But perhaps Clinton’s greatest mistake was even showing up for the early contests instead of focusing her resources on the states where she had a lead. And her early campaign troubles highlight the possible wisdom of Rudy Giuliani’s approach of sitting out the early contests.
It’s a simple philosophy: “If you don’t compete, you cannot lose.” Recognizing that his lead in the national polls did not translate to support among Iowa’s religious conservative caucus-goers or New Hampshire’s “Live Free or Die” primary voters – both of which have been known to be unfriendly to campaign front-runners – the former New York Mayor decided to sit out the early contests. Picking up third place in either state, let alone any delegates, would have been a victory for Giuliani as he focused his attention on Florida, New York, Illinois and California where his more moderate approach to governing holds greater appeal and the delegate rewards are larger.
The risk for Giuliani with this untested approach is that he appears irrelevant in the media horse-race coverage that’s dominated the beginning of the primaries. For the last two weeks, the media has focused on former governors Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney and on Sen. John McCain, with nary a mention of the man who has led national polls among GOP voters for the past year. News media wake-up call: If Giuliani can maintain his lead in the national polls and win in these big, centrist states, it will be Iowa and New Hampshire – not Rudy – that will be rendered irrelevant.
Before New Hampshire, Clinton enjoyed the same campaign advantages as Giuliani, a big national lead and a strong fundraising operation. Like Giuliani, her support in these early-voting states was not as strong as it was across the rest of the country. Unlike Giuliani, Clinton opted against a major change in campaign strategy, and instead went for the old model, running for president based on her experience, letting her rivals challenge her almost face-to-face. No wonder the results were mixed.
Had Clinton lost the New Hampshire primary – and it was very real possibility – it would have dealt a nearly-fatal blow to her campaign. By competing in Iowa and New Hampshire, Clinton opened the door for rival Sen. Barack Obama to seize the media spotlight and make a race of the campaign before the more delegate-rich states which favor Clinton voted in February. She may, in the end, have given momentum – which translates to fundraising power – to Obama and drained resources needed to compete in the expensive media markets of New York, Chicago, Florida and California.
By sitting on the sidelines, Rudy Giuliani has kept the GOP contest in suspense, at least until February 5th, and kept enough money in the bank to wage a heavy television campaign these key states. While the wisdom of Rudy Giuliani’s decision to treat the Presidential primaries as a sprint – not a marathon – remains to be seen, the reviews of Clinton’s gambit in Iowa and New Hampshire are in – and they nearly brought the whole Clinton team to tears.