When one or two news organizations dominated political news cycles, all a campaign had to do to propagate a message was to get an old white guy to whisper a background quote to a single reporter. The TV networks would follow the print outlets, and the message of the day would be established. Now, a campaign literally has to inject itself into the news cycle, sending out "internal" memos for public consumption. Note: these memos would not exist if the campaigns believed that you (we) (me?) (us) are thinking the wrong things about the race.
"The polls went up for Hillary and the open attacks on her have begun. Related? In politics it usually is," is how Clinton's chief strategist, Mark Penn, begins his missive. The translation: you media types think we've had a rough week, and here's how we're keeping it in perspective. His argument: look at what the polls say.
David Plouffe, Obama's campaign manager, writes: "Much has happened in the month since our last report to you on the status of Barack Obama’s Presidential Campaign – and in that month, we continued to strengthen the campaign and Barack continues to demonstrate he is the only candidate with the strength, character and ideas to fundamentally change our broken politics and make the progress at home and abroad that America so desperately needs."
Translation: if you're confused about whether Barack Obama helped himself or hurt himself with his foreign policy double-downs, here's a path to clarify. (His argument: the polls mean nothing out of context. Here's the context.)
Penn cites a range of national polls showing that Clinton has made "significiant gains on two fronts" -- :"consolidating her lead among the Democratic primary electorate nationwide and advancing in the general election against likely Republican nominees."
At the end, he addresses one of Clinton's chief perceived vulnerabilities:
"And most importantly as people look at her position on the Iraq War, they realize that this election is not about the past, but the future and who can be the president who can end this war responsibly and yet continue to defend America's security. She is expanding her vote among anti-war voters, women, Democrats, the middle class and voters who believe that she has the strength and experience to make change happen."
Plouffe's memo, released about a half hour later, disputes Penn's investment in national polls.
"[As]... the Washington insiders focus on irrelevant and wildly inconsistent national polls, there are strong signs in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina of the growing power and potential of this candidacy."
It's all Iowa:
Remember, each contest affects the next. Our strategy has always been to focus like a laser on the early states to create the momentum crucial to later contests. What has changed is our ability to also compete in February 5th states more vigorously than any other candidate, allowing us to win the nomination under various nomination scenarios.
Plouffe and Penn seem to be fighting two different battles. Think of the Democratic Party as a body; Obama is aiming for its heart, and Hillary is aiming for its gut. Obama's campaign urges Dem voters to be faithful to their core ideals. Clinton's campaign urges voters to consult their brains and check their guts. By contrast, the Clinton campaign needs Dem voters to know that she will not sell them out. And Obama needs Dem voters to know that he is smart, steady and confident and ready to tackle problems from day one.
The Democratic brain, right now, is contested.