Clinton Braces for Second Loss


By: Wall Street Journal

Union, Senators May Back Obama
By JACKIE CALMES

NASHUA, N.H. — With Barack Obama strongly favored — even within Hillary Clinton’s camp — to win a second straight victory in today’s New Hampshire Democratic primary, both rivals are looking to the next battle grounds. But his momentum threatens to swamp her in the next two states as well and shows signs of fracturing her support in the party establishment.

Already some Clinton associates have begun lobbying for her early exit if she loses the primary by a big margin, as polls suggest she could. Several Senate colleagues who have sat on the fence are now in talks with Obama advisers about endorsing the freshman Illinois senator over his more experienced colleague.

Despite raising more than $100 million, Sen. Clinton also faces financial worries as contributions have begun to slacken. But she vows to fight on: Her campaign will pivot to focus more heavily on “Super Tuesday” Feb. 5, when 21 states vote. “We are going all the way to the convention,” Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson said.

Still, the maneuverings marked an extraordinary turn, and underscored the power of small, early-voting states to scramble all bets — especially in a year when the states’ contests are so closely scheduled. Sen. Clinton until now continued to hold wide leads in national polls; a new Gallup poll has her slipping into a dead heat. Her original campaign strategy, aimed at positioning her as the inevitable nominee who would capture the early states and wrap up the nomination before February, is now in shambles.

Sen. Clinton uncharacteristically bared the strain of her plight and the grueling campaign pace yesterday: She momentarily choked up with tear-filled eyes after a woman at a Portsmouth, N.H., cafe inquired as to how she gets ready for the campaign each day. “I have so many opportunities for this country, and I just don’t want to see us fall backwards as a nation,” she said, her voice cracking. “This is very personal for me.” (See related article.)

The road may get harder immediately after New Hampshire. The all-important Culinary Workers union in Nevada, the next state to vote on Jan. 19, is considering backing Sen. Obama a day after a New Hampshire win, say some high-ranking Democrats. The support of the state’s largest union by far would virtually hand him a victory in the labor-dominated caucuses there, Democrats say. And the Clinton campaign is considering effectively ceding South Carolina, which votes a week later. Her once-strong support in the state’s large black population eroded and Sen. Obama opened a big lead in polls after Iowa’s caucus results energized many blacks with the prospect that a man of their race stands a realistic chance of being nominated.

When the Clinton campaign contemplated an Iowa loss in the past, New Hampshire — the state that put the candidate’s husband, Bill Clinton, on the path to the presidency in 1992 — was to be the firewall to contain any rival. Now it is anything but. Sen. Obama by yesterday had capitalized on his Iowa triumph to open a double-digit edge over Sen. Clinton in a variety of New Hampshire polls. A week ago, she led by as many as 17 points.

Even more than in Iowa, Sen. Obama’s campaign platform to “change Washington” and “end the partisan food fights” of recent years — a reference to the Clinton era as well as George W. Bush’s presidency — has been a sensation in New Hampshire among Democrats, independents and even some Republicans.

One Republican convert was Mildred Kennedy, a 34-year-old photographer from Contoocook, N.H., whose father was a state legislator. She knocked on doors for Mr. Bush’s father in 1988 as a teenager. She says she is voting for Mr. Obama. “We need hope in this country,” she says, adding, “He talks about solutions … . I don’t want to hear about fear anymore.”

The state has more independent voters than Democrats or Republicans, and both parties’ primaries are open to anyone. Polls show most independents are breaking for Sen. Obama. In that way, Sen. Obama’s competition is as much with John McCain, the maverick Arizona senator who is running ahead of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in the Republican primary here. Sen. McCain was New Hampshire independents’ favorite in 2000, allowing him to trounce Mr. Bush, the Republican front-runner.

As is typical in campaigns, Sen. Clinton’s travails have ignited infighting within her organization, much of it aimed at pollster and chief strategist Mark Penn. Critics say Mr. Penn underestimated the electorate’s appetite for change as the campaign promoted her Washington experience, a charge he contests. “On the very first day of the campaign, Sen. Clinton talked about the bold change we need, and the campaign slogan began ‘Ready for Change.’ … So it has always been a central part of the campaign,” he said in an email.

He also has long been a target of Democrats who complain of arrogance within the Clinton camp. His detractors seized on his authorship of a campaign memo — though other campaign officials agreed to it — that went out to the media Saturday, as reporters, candidates and their contingents had de-camped after Iowa’s caucuses to New Hampshire. “Where’s the Bounce?” it asked in a headline, over news of a poll that suggested Sen. Obama had gotten little lift from his Hawkeye State victory. But the next day, a succession of new polls documented that he had bounced way over Sen. Clinton — spawning guffaws among those recalling the previous day’s memo.

For Sen. Obama, his lead brings fresh scrutiny and new challenges. Expectations have rocketed for him as fast as they’ve fallen for Sen. Clinton — rising higher, in fact, than the campaign might like. On the stump, for instance, Sen. Obama continues to depict himself as an underdog up against the Democratic establishment — but fellow senators’ endorsements confer an establishment stamp of approval.

Such endorsements, however, also could help blunt voter concerns about Sen. Obama’s relative inexperience — concerns that Sen. Clinton is trying to fan and that likely will intensify as his chances of being nominated improve.

Sen. Clinton leads Sen. Obama in Senate endorsements by 10-2. Many senators remained neutral out of respect for Sens. Joe Biden of Delaware and Chris Dodd of Connecticut, who quit the race last week after losing in Iowa. Senators also were awaiting proof that Sen. Obama could actually win votes.

Senatorial egos being what they are, some would-be endorsers are holding out unless they can go public first. So it’s unclear how or when they will play out, says a Democrat involved in the courtship. The Clinton campaign also still is pressing for colleagues’ endorsements.

With just five days between Iowa and New Hampshire — the shortest period ever between the two contests — Sen. Clinton had little time to brake Sen. Obama’s momentum. But aside from Nevada and South Carolina, a relative lull opens up for Democrats between New Hampshire and Feb. 5, when states from Connecticut to California hold the “Super Tuesday” votes.

In that span, reporters will have more time for further examination of the Obama record in the U.S. Senate, and his eight years in the Illinois state senate — helped along by opposition research on Sen. Obama in the Clinton campaign files. The Republican Party, too, already has begun targeting Sen. Obama after long concentrating its unfavorable dispatches on Sen. Clinton. “Senator Obama claims that he was ‘broke’ seven years ago even though he was a partner at a law firm,” said a release put out yesterday by national party spokesman Danny Diaz, going on to question the candidate’s credibility on “economic/budget issues.”

Democrats expect Sen. Obama to be forced to pass what one calls “the Oval Office Test,” and will be pressed more to translate what “change” means in policy specifics. The Obama campaign is considering some weighty speeches, perhaps on foreign policy and on stimulating the economy — to give him more heft with an eye to the general election as well as the nomination battle.

Sen. Clinton and her campaign will continue their theme of contrasting his oratorical reputation with her policy record — “Talk Versus Action,” as the campaign calls it. Sen. Clinton aired a two-minute commercial during the 6 p.m. newscast on the state’s biggest station yesterday, asking voters who would be more ready “on Day One” as president.

She also shot back yesterday at Sen. Obama’s criticism of her campaign as “depressing” for its focus on him, rather than on promoting her candidacy. “That is the kind of characterization that is made by candidates who are trying to avoid scrutiny of their own records,” Sen. Clinton said on ABC-TV’s “Good Morning America.” She added that voters were starting to think, “Wait a minute, what is the substance here? Where is — as famously was said years ago — where’s the beef?”

That’s the line that former vice president Walter Mondale used in 1984 to salvage his once-front-runner candidacy against insurgent Gary Hart, then a senator from Colorado who briefly had an appeal similar to Sen. Obama’s today. Like Sen. Clinton, Mr. Mondale began as the establishment pick to win the nomination — and he ultimately did, despite some surprising early losses to Mr. Hart, though he lost in November.

For the Obama campaign’s part, strategist David Axelrod says, “We’ve had plenty of scrutiny.” He adds some advice for his opponent: “I would spend more time trying to tell people why Hillary Clinton should be president and spend less of it about why Barack Obama should not.”

–Amy Schatz and Amy Chozick contributed to this article.

Write to Jackie Calmes at jackie.calmes@wsj.com

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