Monday, January 7, 2008

Hillary Clinton 'desperate but not panicked'

By Tim Shipman
Last Updated: 1:31am GMT 07/01/2008

Hillary Clinton's closest allies have launched a calculated bid to play down the significance of Barack Obama's victory in the first White House showdown last week and his credentials to run America.

New Hampshire stampede sets Obama up for second victory
In interviews with The Sunday Telegraph, Dick Gephardt, twice a Democrat presidential candidate, and Madeleine Albright, the former US secretary of state, joined a publicity offensive to rehabilitate the former First Lady as the only candidate qualified to be president, and tough enough to face down her Republican opponents.

Hillary Clinton now needs a good result
in New Hampshire to stay in the running

Mrs Clinton's friends were sent to campaign in New Hampshire, which holds its primary elections on Tuesday, after her third-place finish in the Iowa caucuses torpedoed her frontrunner status.

In a sharpening of the Clinton camp's rhetoric against Mr Obama, Mr Gephardt said the senator from Illinois had not accomplished much during his three years in Washington.

And Mr Gephardt, a former majority leader of the House of Representatives, suggested that Mr Obama's win, by 38 per cent to Mrs Clinton's 29 per cent, was not a "real loss" for her.

Both he and Mrs Albright questioned the rules of the caucuses, where victory is decided by the number of delegates the candidates win, rather than the number of votes they receive.

Mr Gephardt said: "It's still not clear how far apart they were. They were pretty tightly bunched. It wasn't a blowout victory for Obama. Obviously, you would rather win than lose, but I don't see it as a real loss."

Echoing Mr Obama's campaign slogan, he said Mrs Clinton "is as interested in change as her opponent, but she has the ability to get it done in the real world. Senator Obama is a talented individual but he has only just arrived, he really hasn't accomplished very much."

He warned that the Republicans would "beat up" the Democrat candidate, whoever it is, during the general election but said that only Mrs Clinton was "tested". Mr Gephardt did admit Mrs Clinton had "got to start winning" but insisted she could survive a second defeat in New Hampshire.

He also dismissed Mr Obama's success in attracting record numbers of independent and Republican voters in Iowa.

Mrs Albright questioned the Iowa result, saying: "I think there are issues about Iowa and the caucus system. We all want change but it's necessary to have the experience to make it happen."

Clinton advisers have revealed that there is unease in her campaign team about how to combat Mr Obama's popularity. On Friday, she wheeled out husband Bill - blamed by some in her camp for overshadowing his wife on the campaign trail. The former president declared that she could copy his "comeback kid" achievement in New Hampshire during the 1992 election.

The Washington Post reported yesterday that Mr Clinton had taken part in a conference call on Friday morning seeking to calm nerves among his wife's congressional supporters. One participant said of the mood in her camp: "There's desperation, but there's no panic."

Clinton advisers drew attention to Mr Obama's vulnerability to Republican attacks on his admissions of youthful drug use and inconsistencies over healthcare and gun control policy - but will not resort to attack advertisements before Tuesday's primary.

The Clinton camp knew well in advance that they were in trouble in Iowa.

A week before the caucuses, a group of former Oxford University friends of the Clintons' daughter Chelsea - now consultants, lawyers and accountants - flew to Des Moines to join the effort. Time and again when they knocked on doors they found that prospective Clinton voters had defected. "We kept finding people who had switched to Obama," one friend told The Sunday Telegraph. The same message came from a focus group of Democrat voters convened by the pollster Frank Luntz on the eve of the caucus. Phillip Williams, a 48-year-old metal machinist, said: "I have a problem with her credibility. She doesn't seem to be genuine."

In response to the defeat, Mrs Clinton bolstered her campaign in New Hampshire with experienced strategists who helped to revitalise John Kerry's campaign four years ago. With them is Steve Morgan, a British strategist who worked on Tony Blair's election victory in 1997 and was international media spokesman for both Mr Kerry and Al Gore.

He said of the Iowa result: "It's Obama's backyard. It would be like Gordon Brown going to Witney and beating David Cameron."

Mr Morgan will also run the campaign's outreach programme, wooing overseas voters, including 350,000 in Britain. He told The Sunday Telegraph: "There are 6.5 million American expats now - that's more voters than in the state of Massachusetts."

If Mrs Clinton does not get a good result in New Hampshire, planning for the November general election may prove academic.

David Gergen, a former adviser to her husband, said: "She has to win in New Hampshire. I think if she comes in second she will be crippled."

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