‘In It to Win It’ May Be Surest Way for Clinton to Lose It

Posted April 6, 2007 at 2:52pm

With all the brainpower behind Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s (D-N.Y.) presidential campaign, you’d think her seasoned advisers could have crafted a better response to Sen. Barack Obama’s (D-Ill.) electrifying announcement than “I’m in it to win it,” a phrase that, according to five Democratic primary voters who live in the battleground states of North Carolina, Ohio, Arizona, New Mexico and New Jersey, smacks of the same arrogance and elitism that cost former Vice President Al Gore (D) and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) the White House.

After spending 12 years as a senior communications strategist, media spokeswoman and campaign adviser to Gore, former Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), Sens. Clinton, Kerry and Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.), former Rep. Martin Frost (D-Texas) and the late Rep. Robert Matsui (D-Calif.), as well as countless House and Senate candidates, I know better than most that today’s political climate demands a great defense and even better offense.

That said, the “real people” I identified and spoke to — people who struggle day in and day out to make ends meet — say the campaign’s “in it to win it” approach raises questions in their minds about whether Clinton has the likability factor necessary to win the presidency in 2008.

According to the five likely 2008 Democratic presidential primary voters I interviewed, using and abusing phrases like “in it to win it” is the surest way for Clinton’s campaign team to seal her fate as the third Democratic presidential nominee who kissed goodbye an election that was said by all to be hers to lose.

The following is an accounting of what, if given the chance, some average American voters would tell Clinton she needs to do to win their vote.

• Ohio: Cheryl Clegg, a 43-year-old working mother of two from Cleveland Heights, said: “The biggest problems with Hillary Clinton’s campaign thus far is she’s visibly uncomfortable in her own skin; she is too D.C. establishment. And unlike her husband, Bill, she looks like she’s hurtin’ when she’s supposed to be feeling other people’s pain.”

In reality, Clegg said, “Hillary Clinton’s campaign can stage as many e-living room conversations as they want, but unless her campaign team figures out how to make her look more like a human being and less than a fixture of the Washington elite, they’ll be giving free ammo to the David Geffens of the world who’d like people to believe her campaign is built on a whole lot of ego, a whole lot of money and a whole lot of lies.”

• North Carolina: Michele Gobble — a 36-year-old mother of two from Huntersville who served in the Navy during the first Persian Gulf War, went to college on the GI bill and became a pediatric oncology nurse upon completing her service to America — said: “Hillary Clinton lost a lot of points on the believability scale when she said she wouldn’t have voted for the war if she knew then what she knows now … it’s unfair to the troops who are giving their lives to protect American interests to have politicians who are as smart as Hillary Clinton giving what is clearly an excuse for her inability to come up with a real solution to what is a very complicated national and international security crisis.”

And, as for being “in it to win it,” Gobble said, “Hillary Clinton should be in it to make changes to improve the lives of all Americans, in it with a real plan to make good on her campaign promises and in it to be straight about what she’d do if elected president.”

• Arizona: Nate Logan — a 42-year-old assistant manager of the Fry’s Food Store in Scottsdale who gave up his career in the District of Columbia’s food and restaurant business to follow his ex-wife to her hometown in the hope that his half-African-American, half-Jewish son will live in a nation where he will not be judged by the color of his skin, or in which of God’s houses he chooses to worship, but for the content of his character — said:

“Hillary Clinton should dump the advisers who feed her full of sound bites that supposedly play in ‘red states’ and instead run as one of a few politicians who listens before she legislates, as the strong woman who knows how to play in a man’s world, and as a mother who knows that it takes a strong village to raise a great child.”

• New Jersey: Jill Garfunkel, a 63-year-old woman who lives in Wall Township, where she balances her career as a caterer and personal trainer with caring for her ailing mother, said “in it to win it” suggests Hillary Clinton is in the race to win her own personal victory, which turns her off.

“Now, when I have the TV or the radio on, I switch stations when I know a story on Hillary Clinton is coming on because I just can’t stomach hearing more talk about why Americans should live every day in fear, why poor and underserved people in today’s society don’t matter, and why we should accept that politicians have to sellout to big contributors because it’s business as usual.”

• New Mexico: Jason Smith, a 36-year-old political history professor at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, said: “What’s made Hillary Clinton the boldest and arguably most accomplished woman in America is her courage to take on the real and tough issues facing the people on the frontlines of the war most people call their daily lives. If she wants to win, she’s going to have to leave the Beltway boys and girls behind and follow her own strong voice.”

So what’s the bottom line, according to these “unofficial advisers”?

Clinton should go back to doing what she did best when she was chairwoman of Senate Democratic Steering Committee: reach out beyond the Democratic base to real Americans.

Why?

Because it’s people of faith, people who serve in the American military, and hard-working men and women of all shapes, colors and sizes who can and will tell her first-hand that in the wake of “Bring It On” and “Mission Accomplished,” they want a president who is about more than just winning at all costs.

Lest they want to lose it, Sen. Clinton’s advisers would be better off letting Hillary be Hillary.

Jodi Rebecca Sakol is a freelance writer who served as staff director of the Senate Democratic Steering Committee from 2001 to 2004 under the chairmanships of Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) and John Kerry (Mass.).