Team Clinton: Obama's now the establishment candidate

In a post-Super Tuesday conference call, some of Hillary Clinton's top advisors work hard to portray Barack Obama as running an establishment campaign.

Published February 6, 2008 5:28PM (EST)

In a conference call with reporters Wednesday morning, one post-Super Tuesday message from Hillary Clinton's campaign was made absolutely clear, over and over again. The new line from some of Clinton's top advisors? By racking up big endorsements recently, Barack Obama has started to run an "increasingly establishment-oriented campaign," and voters have rejected him for that reason, turning to Clinton instead.

"The more that Sen. Obama has shifted to becoming an establishment campaign based on endorsements ... the more that people said it's really Sen. Clinton who has a plan for change," Mark Penn, Clinton's chief strategist, said.

It might be difficult for the Clinton campaign to make this message stick in the minds of voters. As a colleague reminded us, Clinton's husband held some sort of high position in the government and the Democratic Party not so long ago. But certainly the campaign has some basis for its assertion that Obama's high-profile endorsements didn't guarantee him victory. Clinton won Massachusetts' primary on Tuesday despite the endorsements Obama had picked up from that state's governor and both of its senators.

Clinton advisors also dismissed the idea that Obama had momentum in recent days, that if he'd just had a little more time he could have won in more places on Tuesday. They claimed last-minute deciders went for Clinton, and campaign spokesman Howard Wolfson added, "There is a lot of talk, a lot of spin, about, 'If only Sen. Obama had more time.' Of course, we are already in the longest presidential campaign in the history of the Republic. It's not clear how much more time they would want to get the votes they are seeking."

The Clinton campaign also seems to believe its candidate won the most recent Democratic debate, the first direct face-off between Clinton and Obama. It's pushing aggressively for more debates and has already accepted four invitations. "We think that [the latest] debate was enormously important in helping voters ... make up their minds in the closing days, to determine which candidate to vote for," Wolfson said.

But staffers were careful to hedge their optimism about the campaign, emphasizing several times that they believe the contest for delegates will stay close, with neither candidate able to establish a large lead, over the coming weeks, and that the campaign may well continue through the Democratic convention this summer.

The campaign also rolled out a new message about the controversy over Michigan and Florida delegations. The national party stripped both states of delegates for violating scheduling rules set by the party, but both states held primaries anyway, and Clinton won them. Her campaign has been agitating ever since for delegates from both to be seated at the convention. Its newest argument is that, contrary to the widespread belief that Clinton only took those states by the margin she did because the races there were uncontested, the margins she won by in big states Tuesday night were similar and show that the results in Michigan and Florida might have been the same if real campaigning had been done by all the candidates there. During the call, one advisor noted that the question of how the states will be dealt with could prove critically important to the campaign.

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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