Lowering expectations

In a memo, Sen. Barack Obama's campaign manager does his best to manage the coverage of wins and losses on Super Tuesday.

Published February 4, 2008 9:29PM (EST)

Let's face it: For better or worse (OK, probably for worse), presidential campaigns in this day and age are driven as much by winning or losing the expectations game as they are by winning or losing actual votes and delegates. If you can, say, successfully spin a second-place finish into a win and dub yourself the "Comeback Kid,"" then a second-place finish really is a win. Similarly, if everyone comes in expecting you to win handily, or at least put up a close fight, and you lose by even a point more than that, the coverage will be brutal.

Certainly all the top advisors for the current presidential campaigns know how this game is played. Today, though, it's David Plouffe, the campaign manager for Sen. Barack Obama, who's playing it most obviously. In a memo aimed at supporters and reporters, Plouffe all but concedes Super Tuesday to Sen. Hillary Clinton, no doubt hoping to lower expectations for Obama's performance on the massive primary day.

"Senator Clinton is certainly the favorite on February 5, given the huge leads she has held in many of these contests throughout the course of the campaign and the political, historical and geographic advantages she enjoys in many of these states," Plouffe writes.

"Our path to the nomination never factored in a big day for us on February 5. Rather, we always planned to stay close enough in the delegate count so that we could proceed to individually focus on the states in the next set of contests.

"We fully expect Senator Clinton to earn more delegates on February 5th and also to win more states. If we were to be within 100 delegates on that day and win a number of states, we will have met our threshold for success and will be best positioned to win the nomination in the coming months.

"A performance that exceeds those benchmarks, while unlikely, would put is in a surprisingly strong position heading into the rest of the February contests."

The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder is almost incensed by the amount of spin in the memo. He writes, "I'm sorry. Hold up, time out. What?? Unless every Obama adviser I've spoken to over the past year has out and out lied to me, a big day on Feb. 5 has always been a big part of Obama's nomination strategy ... Seems like the Obama campaign is setting expectations way low so they can beat them as easily as the Giants front four beat through the line to Tom Brady ...

"But at some point, Obama has to accept the fact that he has already vanquished the leading lord, that he has surmounted the insurmountable, and that just because he hasn't won this thing doesn't mean that Hillary Clinton is still the inevitable frontrunner with unspecified political and geographic advantages."

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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