Clinton appoints new campaign manager as Obama takes Maine

Posted in United States | 11-Feb-08 | Author: Leonard Doyle and David Usborn| Source: The Independent

Barack Obama swept to victory in Maine last night, getting the upper hand in all the weekend contests with his rival Hillary Clinton in his bid to win the Democratic nomination for the White House.

Mr Obama won Maine by 59 per cent to 41 per cent with 87 per cent of precincts reporting. The victory was all the more impressive, as he was down in four polls before the caucus and lost in neighbouring Massachusetts on Super Tuesday. He even won a Grammy yesterday for the audio version of his book "The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts On Reclaiming The American Dream", beating two former Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter in the best-spoken word album category.

Unable to blunt his advance Mrs Clinton responded by shaking up her own campaign. She replaced long-time manager and friend Patti Solis Doyle, a move her campaign described as ‘a seamless transition.’ The surprise announcement saw her position taken by Maggie Williams, another close confidante of Mrs Clinton.

Coming so soon after Mrs Clinton’s resounding defeat in by an all-white electorate in Maine, as well as the mid-sized states of Washington, Nebraska and Louisiana, the reshuffle smacked of panic.

Mr Obama is building up a head of steam with his strong showing in a series of battles around the country, winning delegates and attracting a key constituency so called super-delegates to his side. Both candidates are almost even in pledged delegates but both are well short of the 2,025 needed to win the Democratic nomination.

Mr Obama told an exuberant rally in Alexandria, Virginia last night that he would be better able to bring people together to make the policy changes that Democrats want.

"Keep in mind we had Bill Clinton as president when in '94 we lost the House, we lost the Senate, we lost governorships, we lost state houses and so regardless of what policies they wanted to promote, they didn't have a working majority for change," he said.

Buoyed up by a weekend of victories Mr Obama said. "I have the ability to bring people together," he said. Because of that, "I think I can beat John McCain more effectively.’ Mr McCain, 71, was taking a rest form the campaign trail but he did poorly in three Republican contests when the former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee beat him in Kansas and Louisiana and only narrowly lost in Washington State.

The Huckabee's campaign called the Washington State’s final results "dubious." Saying the race was called too early for Mr McCain — leaving 1,500 votes uncounted when the two candidates were just 242 votes apart. "That is an outrage," his manager Ed Rollins said. Mr Huckabee is trailing way behind Mr McCain in the delegate count but he is refusing to quit the race.

A new round of Democratic and Republican contests takes place tomorrow in Maryland, Washington DC and Virginia. All the Democratic contests are expected to fall to Mr Obama. New polls released showed him leading Mrs Clinton by 16 per centage points in Virginia and 18 percentage points in Maryland. While he may pull ahead in the delegate race by the end of this week, he faces a major on 4 March when Texas and Ohio vote. Both states have strongly favoured Mrs Clinton until this point.

Mrs Clinton had to cancel a trip to the west of the state after her plane was grounded by poor weather. But at a campaign stop at Manassas, the site of the famous Civil War battles, she drew comparisons between herself and the popular Democratic President Harry Truman, who served in the 1950s

"It's probably not been since Harry Truman that we had a president who inherits two wars, an economy in trouble, millions of people losing their health care, millions of families on the brink of losing their homes," she said.

The departure of Mrs Solis Doyle, an important link to the Hispanic community, follows last week’s news of fundraising difficulties for Mrs Clinton when it was revealed that she had loaned the campaign $5m (£2.6m) of her own money. Campaign officials said Ms Solis Doyle left on her own account and was not pushed. But Mrs as Clinton is so far behind her rival in fundraising and momentum that she faces the very real prospect of losing every voting contest she takes part in this month.

Mr Solis Doyle announced her departure in an email to campaign staff yesterday in which she said: 'I have been proud to manage this campaign and prouder still to call Hillary my friend for more than 16 years."

She will also stay on as a senior adviser to Mrs Clinton. Ms Williams, who was Mrs Clinton's chief of staff while she was First Lady, was brought on board, after Mrs Clinton won a narrow victory in New Hampshire primary.

While the winds may be gathering behind Mr Obama for now, there is still a significant chance that neither of the candidates will reach the magic number of 2,025 to wrap up the nomination before the party’s convention in late August. In that case, the final choice may be left to the 796 super-delegates who will be at the Denver convention.

It is a scenario that is alarming party leaders. Super-delegates are mostly members of Congress; state governors and other assorted party grandees. If they end up serving as essential tiebreakers in the contest, voters will feel cheated, especially the supporters of whichever candidate is finally passed over.

It also means both camps have already launched a frenzied effort to woo super-delegates, to their side. Both candidates are dedicating a few hours a day to lobbying them in any way possible, including daily phone calls and emails both from themselves and high-profile supporters.

For now, at least, Mr Obama can claim some sort of small edge over his rival. He took both Washington and Nebraska by margins of roughly 68 per cent to 32 per cent. The results were closer in Louisiana, where he won 52 per cent compared to 43 per cent for Mrs Clinton.

“We won in Louisiana, we won in Nebraska, we won in Washington state,” Mr Obama on Saturday told cheering Democrats at a fundraising dinner in Virginia. “We won north, we won south, we won in between. And I believe that we can win Virginia on Tuesday if you’re ready to stand for change.”

Mrs Clinton, speaking at the same event, avoided talking about the day’s lopsided results entirely. “Our task tonight is to make sure that the president is a Democrat,” she said. “Because after seven long years of George W Bush, seven years of incompetence, corruption and cronyism, seven years of government of the few, by the few and for the few, the next president will face tremendous challenges.”

Mr Obama’s strategy of winning small and medium-sized states might just be enough to break the deadlock with Mrs Clinton and clinch the nomination if he can maintain it. The Illinois senator is also being fuelled by superior fundraising, even though Mrs Clinton’s camp attempted late on Saturday to draw attention away from the primary results by announcing that she had raised $10m in new campaign cash since the polls closed on Super Tuesday. Her aides meanwhile are pointing to Ohio and Texas.

Neither camp has any cause to relax; hence the sudden focus on lobbying the super-delegates, who are free agents at convention. In theory, they can support whichever of the candidates they see fit. Some may feel compelled to follow the lead of voters in their own states but there are no hard-and-fast rules.

Mrs Clinton has already hired the high-profile lawyer Harold Ickes to canvass super-delegates on her behalf, while Mr Obama has appointed the former Senate leader Tom Daschle to lead his lobbying efforts. “We have all been bombarded with emails from everybody and their mamas,” Donna Brazile, a senior member of the Democratic National Committee and super-delegate told the New York Times.

“‘Auntie Donna, you’re a super delegate!’ My niece called me today to lobby me. I didn’t know what to say.” Whether super-delegates should follow the lead of voters or their own instincts at the convention is now a matter of keen debate.

Mr Obama at the weekend stressed that he would expect super-delegates to follow the lead of voters, picking the candidate with the greatest number of popular votes cast in the months-long procession of primaries and caucuses. Wary that they may knock her out, Mrs Clinton by contrast is stressing that the whole point of the system is to allow super-delegates to follow their own instincts at the convention.

Super delegates

* The Super-Delegates system was introduced by the Democratic Party in 1982 with a view to giving the party hierarchy some final say in the choice of a presidential nominee. It has only been tested once in 1984 when super-delegates overwhelmingly delivered the nomination to Walter Mondale over Gary Hart. This year, however, the 800 or so super-delegates are likely to be far more evenly split between Obama and Clinton, raising the possibility of an ugly floor-fight at the convention. Moreover, if it is the delegates who finally break the tie in August, some will contend that the party will be making a mockery of the democratic process that came before in the primaries and caucuses.