Hillary’s New Strategy: Same Old

The Wisconsin exit polls were just starting to trickle in when the Clinton campaign released “excerpts” from her speech tonight. This isn’t the optimistic nonconcession speech she gave after Obama’s win last week in the Potomac primary. Tonight, she trades quips about George W. Bush being “all hat and no cattle” for barbs directed at Obama: “Both Senator Obama and I would make history. But only one of us is ready on day one to be commander in chief, ready to manage our economy, and ready to defeat the Republicans.”

It’s a continuation of the contrast strategy Clinton has been using for the past week—a strategy that, as the Wisconsin results show, didn’t work. First, she picked a fight over the number of debates, hoping to paint Obama as all style, no substance. Then her campaign pushed the plagiarism accusation. (The campaign denies leveling the charge in the first place.) Needless to say, neither accusation stuck. The people of Wisconsin didn’t feel “ignored,” as Howard Wolfson suggested, nor did they buy that Obama borrowing words from a friend and colleague was grounds for punishment in the polls. Exit polls show that 53 percent of voters answered “yes” when asked whether Clinton attacked unfairly, as opposed to 33 percent when asked about Obama.  

But instead of backing off, Clinton is doubling down. She’s in a good position to do so. She maintains a comfy lead in Ohio and a sizable one in Texas. Exit polls show Obama closing in on whites and voters with incomes under $50,000—two Clinton strongholds—but her lead among Latinos remains untouched.

The difficulty, though, lies in presenting a contrast that voters will believe. The debate shtick didn’t work, nor did the knock on Obama’s authenticity. Clinton needs a better hook to illustrate the contrast between herself and Obama. The best forum for that has never been the airwaves—it’s been the stage. Luckily for her, a debate is right around the corner .