Dispatch January 2008

Doom, Gloom, Then Ecstasy

A behind-the-scenes report from New Hampshire primary night at the Hillary camp

To say that that the Clinton campaign was preparing for the worst understates the deep sense of gloom that settled over Hillaryland.

Also see:

New Hampshire, From Beijing
James Fallows offers a postmortem on the New Hampshire primary.

"Why She Won"
Andrew Sullivan's take on what happened in New Hampshire.

Several senior staffers were MIA. Clinton had taken the reins of her inner circle, self-strategized, rewritten her stump speech and generally decided to shed the hardened political shell around her personality. It worked, although she did not know it.

Yesterday morning, some of her aides dressed casually; there was no reason to spruce up.

On Monday night, the press corps had carpooled to her final campaign event; some called it the "Clinton swan song."

The final Clinton campaign internal tracking poll projected an 11-point loss. Early in the day, a senior campaign official said the campaign's boiler room canvasses of targeted precincts predicted a major Obama victory.

Reports of high turnout deepened the worry; this was Iowa all over again. Clinton cloistered with her family on the top floor of the Centennial Inn in Concord.

During the day, as Clinton contemplated a winless future, her campaign's advance team built a small crowd for a school gymnasium in Concord.

At first, the crowd was, indeed, small. But Nashua and Manchester, gritty, blue-collar, working class cities, began to report in, and the margin for Hillary Clinton was huge.

By 9:00 p.m, as the pied piper of victory played on the television, supporters found their way, startled and excited, to the gym.

A Clinton adviser, by e-mail, said: "It's going to be very close."

Around 10:00 pm ET, the AP projected the race. The remaining precincts were too widely distributed throughout the state to fall to one candidate.

About seven hours of ecstasy followed. At the Centennial Inn, President Clinton, according to several sources, wept.

What's Next

There will be changes to the campaign. New voices will be added.

Before today, Maggie Williams, Clinton's former chief of staff, was set to be named as the campaign's chief operating officer. Williams may well still take the position, but it will be portrayed as an addition as the campaign ramps up, rather than a sign of displeasure with campaign manager Patti Solis Doyle. Roy Spence, an advertising guru who has rescued the Clintons' public image before, will start to participate on daily conference calls and help figure out messaging and branding.

A conference call scheduled for tomorrow between Clinton and the "White Boys"—James Carville, Doug Sosnik, Paul Begala and others who served as Bill Clinton's political brain trust—was postponed late today, although several previously scheduled strategy sessions will still take place.

For now, Mark Penn, the campaign's chief strategist, will continue to lead regular messaging meetings.

He was blamed in Hillaryland after Iowa for conceiving a failed strategy, and so it did not escape notice that Clinton, during her victory speech last night, repeatedly referred to the "invisible" working class, a concept that Mr. Penn had fleshed out at the campaign. Howard Wolfson, who pushed Clinton to adopt a more personal tone in her stump speeches and show vulnerability, is credited with recognizing the power of Clinton's softer side and fighting hard for the campaign to accept the strategy.

The biggest vindication might well be reserved for the campaign manager, Patti Solis Doyle, who has now survived three attempts in the space of a year by outside advisers to reduce her role. Solis Doyle has always been fiercely protective of Sen. Clinton's political aspirations and her guidance and decisions as a Clinton political adviser helped ensure that Clinton's six years in the Senate turned out to be productive and a reflection of her experience. Without Solis Doyle's counsel, Clinton might not have sufficiently established an independent political identity.

Other heroes in Clinton's campaign include Karen Hicks, who, along with Clinton's state director, Nick Clemons, designed the New Hampshire field program, Kathy Sullivan, the campaign's New Hampshire co-chair, who was a tireless volunteer and cheerleader, and Doug Hattaway, a former aide to Al Gore who quickly established his bonafides as a master communicator and wrangler of surrogates.

Advisers said they did not believe that Clinton believed she was out of the woods.

For one thing, she has less than $20 million in her bank account, and five days after Iowa, she raised about $1 million, well behind Senator Obama, who raised more than $3 million and even Senator John Edwards, who managed to raise $1.6 million.

Fundraising has to be a priority, although it will be much less daunting in the wake of a victory.

And outside advisers will continue to push for change: "A lot of people want her to be scared straight and realize the toxic dynamic that exists," said one.

Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic associate editor. He blogs at marcambinder.theatlantic.com.
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Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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