Hillary's 'Comeback Kid' Opportunity -- Already Squandered?

You gotta say this for the Clinton team's strategy: it's different. Instead of asking for votes they've been battering the electorate, telling voters that if they don't like their candidate it's their shortcoming, not hers. Idealism is for losers, and the more you dare to hope the more we'll crush your dreams with negativity. With Mark Penn's 'incumbent' strategy in ruins, last night looked like an opportunity to change her direction by unshackling herself from bad advisors and appealing to voters one-on-one.

That was then, this is now. She could have taken this opportunity to fire Penn and shake herself loose from James Carville and the other weathered barnacles clinging to the hull of her campaign. "I did it the consultants' way," she could have said, "now I'm going to be me." Instead it looks like she's sticking with the old team and their ugly ways. Penn wasted no time telling a group of reporters that their campaign's going to get even nastier as they try to rough up Obama some more.

That's not to say that the other campaigns haven't been tough on Clinton, or that they haven't hit her with criticism. Of course they have. But they don't make a fetish of negativity the way Penn did in his journalists' chat last night. Where Obama promotes optimism and Edwards pushes change, the Clintonites are taking a different approach.

"Pretty face you got there, Senator. It would be a shame if ... something happened to it."

Clinton and Penn could be talking about lessons learned in Iowa, but apparently that's not the way this team works. Too bad. She has some good people in her corner, but their voices don't seem to be loud enough to drown out the others.

She's been a good Senator, but that's a legislative job. Her career has only given us two examples of her executive abilities: the 1994 health initiative, and this year's campaign. We know what happened in '94, and her management decisions this year -- on everything from hiring to human resource management (she should have insisted Penn take a leave of absence) to choice of themes and tactics -- have been disappointing. That's not promising for a would-be Chief Executive.

The electorate is unimpressed by her campaign strategy, and her response seems to be to tear down the other guy so that voters will accept her because they have no other choice. This was Hillary Clinton's chance to redefine herself in a positive way. It doesn't look like she's interested. She could still eke out a nomination victory in a three-way race, but it looks like she's sticking with a negative and self-entitled strategy. Win, lose, or draw, that's bad news for the Democratic Party.


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