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Clinton Takes a Page From Reagan

May 27, 2008

Regardless of who wins the Democratic presidential primary in Puerto Rico, Hillary Clinton might well be on her way to becoming the President of the United States. She may not win in 2008 but the stars are lining up for her in 2012 . This, of course, depends upon how well Barrack Obama does in the fall against John McCain.

It would not be the first time a candidate comes in second during the nominating process and four years later wins the nomination and the White House. She would be in good company.

Obama himself would be wise to remember the basic rule of politics: there are no rules. It will be on his shoulders to win the general election and while he can expect Clinton to campaign for him, she cannot control her voters and it is up to Obama to connect with her supporters around the country and win their votes.

This is where Obama has his work cut out for him. Clinton has run a tough, smart campaign and has trounced him in numerous states, including California, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Texas, and New Jersey. In recent weeks she has embarrassed Obama with drubbings in the key swing states of West Virginia and Kentucky.

She remains very close in the delegate count and should win more popular votes than he when the primary season ends. Voters like a fighter, and she has earned the admiration of many Democrats, Republicans, and Independents with her gutsy stick-to-itness when many of the experts in Washington have called on her to quit. There also has been a backlash among voters for the treatment she has received from the mainstream media.

It is important that she remain relevant between now and the convention in Denver. History tells us of another campaign which faced the same dilemma. In 1976 the Reagan campaign came up with the idea of breaking with a longstanding tradition of waiting until the nominations were over to inform the delegates who his vice presidential running mate would be.

Reagan pre-selected U.S. Senator Richard Schweiker from Pennsylvania as his choice for running mate in an effort to shake up the convention and sway uncommitted northeastern delegates to his side. The Reagan campaign also made this issue the cornerstone of their convention floor fight – called Rule 16-C – whereby delegates would have the right to know the choice of President Ford ‘s running mate before the delegate balloting for President got underway.

While Reagan lost the floor fight - and the nomination – the Schweiker ploy smartly kept the Reagan campaign relevant for weeks prior to the convention. While the convention nominated Ford --the delegates in Kansas City went wild for Reagan. He instantly became the Republican frontrunner four years after Ford lost to Carter.

Now it’s Mrs. Clinton’s turn, and she too needs to stay relevant. She will go to the Democratic convention and receive the admiration of her supporters and a tremendous floor demonstration for her efforts. She’s earned the right to make a prime-time speech to the delegates and to the nation. She’ll work for an Obama victory – but like the Reagan/Ford scenario – Clinton will be the instant frontrunner in 2012 should McCain win.

November could be tricky for Obama. McCain has a seasoned political staff guiding his campaign, and he will not be easy to defeat. Obama desperately needs the full support of Clinton’s two key constituencies -- women and Reagan Democrats. Reaching out to these voters is how Obama needs to spent his time.

He is making a mistake under the illusion that these groups will miraculously give him their full support once he’s nominated. No so. These votes must be earned and he has not made good use of his time to win them over. He ignored West Virginia and Kentucky and has not been helped by his campaign or the media who have tried to back channel the idea that the nomination is over – before he has earned enough delegates to legitimately be claimed the winner.

Obama is very likeable and has an excellent temperament that connects with voters. He is never too high or too low emotionally, and this will play very well among both Reagan Democrats and women. As President Lincoln said to his Army General George McClellan who refused to fight in the early stages of the Civil War, "If you are not using the army, may I borrow it for awhile?"

Same with Obama. He needs to roll up his sleeves - forget the delegate count and the tactics of the primary campaign - start connecting with voters he needs – Reagan Democrats and women.

If he succeeds -- he’ll win.