The Slatest

Report: Neglect and Poor Strategy Helped Cost Clinton Three Critical States

Hillary Clinton speaks during a campaign rally at North Carolina State University on the eve of the election. North Carolina is not Michigan.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Sam Stein of the Huffington Post has written an interesting autopsy of the Hillary Clinton campaign, which attributes her loss to a lack of focus on key Midwestern states and a poor plan in Pennsylvania, places that tipped the balance of the election for Donald Trump.

Here is the most damning reporting from the piece:

In Michigan alone, a senior battleground state operative told HuffPost that the state party and local officials were running at roughly one-tenth the paid canvasser capacity that Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) had when he ran for president in 2004. Desperate for more human capital, the state party and local officials ended up raising $300,000 themselves to pay 500 people to help canvass in the election’s closing weeks. By that point, however, they were operating in the dark. One organizer said that in a precinct in Flint, they were sent to a burned down trailer park. No one had taken it off the list of places to visit because no one had been there until the final weekend. Clinton lost the state by 12,000 votes.

A similar situation unfolded in Wisconsin. According to several operatives there, the campaign’s state office and local officials scrambled to raise nearly $1 million for efforts to get out the vote in the closing weeks. Brooklyn headquarters had balked at funding it themselves, arguing that the state already had a decent-sized footprint because of the labor-backed super PAC For Our Future and pointing out that Clinton had never trailed in a single poll in Wisconsin.

Trump won Wisconsin by 1 point, or fewer than 30,000 votes. Clinton did not visit the state once after the Democratic convention, and neither did President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama, as the Huffington Post notes. “The campaign’s state office argued additionally for prominent African-American surrogates to help in Milwaukee,” the site reported.

In Pennsylvania, meanwhile, Stein reported that Clinton’s turnout machine worked fairly well, but because it declined to canvas rural counties it failed to anticipate the Trump surge that would put him over the top in that crucial state:

In Philadelphia County, Clinton got slightly more votes than Obama did in 2012 despite having a slightly smaller percentage of the vote total. But outside the city and suburbs, she lost badly. Whereas Mitt Romney won 57 percent of Elk County, 63.7 percent of Clearfield County and 72 percent of Jefferson County in 2012, Trump took in 70 percent, 73.1 percent and 78.3 percent of those counties respectively.

“Paid canvassers compensate for candidates who don’t have a huge volunteer base,” said [one] grassroots campaign operative. “Hillary Clinton had [a huge volunteer base]. It just wasn’t always in the places they needed it to be.”

In Pennsylvania, Trump won the state by about 70,000 votes.

Clinton would have needed all three states to go her way in order to win the Electoral College if the rest of the map remained as it did. She lost each state 1.2 percent or less. Each state had gone for Democrats in the previous six elections, and Barack Obama won there by a margin of at least 5.4 percent in the last two elections. In addition to not allocating appropriate on-the-ground resources in Michigan and Wisconsin, the Clinton campaign reportedly failed with her air game there too, as well as in not having the candidate visit key battleground states in the race’s closing stages as much as Trump did:

As the Washington Post reported, Clinton’s campaign and outside groups supporting it aired more television ads in Omaha during the closing weeks than in Michigan and Wisconsin combined. And as NBC News reported, during the final 100 days of the election, Trump made 133 visits to Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, North Carolina, Michigan and Wisconsin while Clinton made 87.

For its part, the Clinton campaign pushed back against the HuffPo report:

A senior official from Clinton’s campaign noted that they did have a large staff presence in Michigan and Wisconsin (200 and 180 people respectively) while also stressing that one of the reasons they didn’t do more was, in part, because of psychological games they were playing with the Trump campaign. They recognized that Michigan, for example, was a vulnerable state and felt that if they could keep Trump away—by acting overly confident about their chances—they would win it by a small margin and with a marginal resource allocation.

So the Clinton campaign knew it was at risk of losing Michigan, but not contesting Michigan was apparently a mind game to make Trump think that it shouldn’t contest Michigan too because Clinton was so confident in Michigan. Trump’s final rally before the election was in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Good plan, though.