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ROBB AUSTIN'S TURN

Clinton Has a Strategy for Winning

May 21, 2008

Hilary Clinton won another overwhelming primary victory in Kentucky and lost as expected in Oregon but there are new signs that a large majority of Clinton supporters may not support Barrick Obama in November if he is the Democratic nominee.

In the meantime, Obama continues to run out the clock but is floundering over his assertion that as President he will  personally meet with enemies of the United States (notably Iranian President Mahmud Abmadinejad and Cuban Dictator Raul Castro) without preconditions.

One has to admire the tenacity of the Clinton campaign. She has pulled together an impressive coalition of women and Reagan Democrats to score her huge victory in Kentucky. She deserves to stay in the race and is looking ahead to future primaries although the superdelegates appear to be holding for Obama. The key question is how can she win?

There is a winning strategy – albeit a long shot. Voters and delegates are getting an early glimpse into an Obama-McCain match up, and they may not like what they are seeing. Obama still cannot compete in key swing states and is not attracting the Reagan Democrats that will be needed to win in November. Delegates will do well to take a second look at Clinton at the convention in Denver.

There is precedent for Clinton to stay in the race through the convention and ask delegates to reconsider their position on the candidates. Voters and the media should give her a chance to make her case. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter went to the New York Democrat Convention with 1,764 delegates – 100 more than needed to capture the nomination over Senator Ted Kennedy. But Kennedy did not quit the race and did not concede the election. He went to the convention and fought on.

After the primaries Carter even invited Kennedy to the White House in an attempt to work out their differences but Kennedy was determined to go to the convention and did not concede. Not only did Kennedy not quit, he challenged Carter to a debate – which Carter steadfastly refused.

Kennedy’s argument was that he had gotten stronger as the primaries unfolded and delegates should be able to reassess their choice. Kennedy proposed a rule change at the convention to "Keep it Open" enabling delegates to be free to vote for whomever they choose - even on the first ballot. It was hotly contested but the Carter forces won out in a roll call vote on the convention floor.

Clinton can make a strong case that she’s the stronger candidate to win in November and that as the primary season went forward - she got stronger and Obama got weaker. He can’t win the swing states, and he is already stumbling against McCain in his trial run of the general election.

Obama struggled this week - especially over his commitment to meet with our enemies in his first year in office without preconditions. McCain says this is naive and a disqualification for President. Obama says that Presidents Kennedy, Nixon and Reagan did the same thing.

But the facts are not on Obama’s side.

Kennedy met with the leader of the Soviet Union Nikita Khrushchev at the height of the Cold War in Vienna but there were preconditions for the meeting. Kennedy himself read everything he could get his hands on about Khrushchev and even talked to everyone he knew who had previously met with him – including heads of state of our allies.

Kennedy also had an agenda – to convince Khrushchev that America would risk the threat of nuclear war if Russia tried to extend its dominance into the western world. He knew the Russians thought him to be weak – and he wanted to use the meeting to convince them otherwise.

The invitation to President Nixon to visit China was preceded by more than "two years of complex, subtle, and determined diplomatic signals and negotiations," Nixon later said.

Nixon went to China in February of 1972 seven months after accepting Premier Zhou Enlai’s invitation. Thus, there were nearly three years of pre-conditional talks, discussions, and negotiations.

Henry Kissinger himself spent over seventeen hours in meetings and informal conversations with Zhou Enlai leading up to the announcement that Nixon would go to China. Nixon was very impressed with Zhou Enlai’s grasp of history and world leaders but said his meeting with Chairman Mao Zedong " was too brief and too formal to have given me much more than a superficial personal impression."

Reagan had his own doctrine – Peace Through Strength – and that mantra permeated his entire strategy in his talks with the Soviet Union. By the time he finally met with Soviet Leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985 the Reagan doctrine had already crushed the Soviet economy and Gorbachev was more than ready to deal on a number of critical issues favorable to both the United States and the Soviet Union.

Bottom line: there is no correlation between Obama’s position to meet with our enemies without preconditions and that of past Presidents.

Meanwhile, Clinton remains in the wings and is doing the right thing by concentrating on voters in primary states. Obama may make more missteps and be seen as a weak candidate the more he chooses to take on McCain directly before he has secured the nomination. Now she needs to take her case to the delegates at the convention.

It’s her only hope – but in politics – the impossible is possible.