How Obama Won and Clinton Lost

By Ed O'Keefe

Jun 3, 2008 6:20pm

Opinion by Matthew Dowd, ABC News Political Contributor

A year ago, Hillary Clinton was 30-points ahead over any rival in the Democratic primary. She had outraised everyone at that point by more than a two to one margin. She had the backing of the majority of the Democratic establishment. She had the backing of a popular former President who happened to be her husband. And she lost.

So what happened?

Like any story, the reasons and causes aren’t easily reduced to a one paragraph explanation and there were multiple causes for why Clinton lost. I will reflect on just on a few from my perspective.

This is a race that Clinton could have won and should have won, and came very close. And her gender ultimately didn’t have much to do with the loss.

The following is my attempt at explaining what happened:

1. She ran for months and months as the candidate of experience and the electorate overwhelmingly wanted change. She wasted many resources and much time arguing and building a case based on experience, and two-thirds of Democratic voters wanted change. She tried turning this around late in the game and Obama owned it at that point.

2. The political environment of this race was much different than 2004 or 2000. In those elections, strength was the key attribute the country was looking for. The country desired more of a father figure. Today, the country is looking for more a a healing presence, someone more nurturing and demonstrating an ability to bring the American family together –- more of a mothering persona. The country wanted a Mom, and Hillary gave them a Dad. She tried to hard to demonstrate her toughness and strength and voters wanted more caretaking and sensitivity.

3. Presidential campaigns are always about understanding voters fears, but then asking them to vote their hopes. Clinton did an unbelievable job speaking to voters fears but she never crossed the bridge to speak to voters hopes. She got stuck in the fear equation and voters needed her to move to hope at some point.

4. The Clinton campaign based their tactical strategy on the idea that this would be a short race and big state victories early would decide it quickly. This primary became a long race and every single caucus or primary mattered. Clinton scrambled to retool the campaign based on a longer effort, in the midst of a heated primary. 

5. Hillary Clinton never separated herself enough from Bill in the course of this race. Voters wanted to see her stand on her own two feet, and understand that on her own she could do the job and it would be her presidency. Every time Bill showed up on the radar it reminded voters that she wasn’t on her own.   And couple this with fact that Bill Clinton, while having a great political ear and voice advocating on behalf of himself, seems to not be as adept at advocating on behalf of someone else. 

6. The country is looking for something new and hip and next generational, and this is especially true for voters under 30 (the 9/11 generation). Barack Obama gave voters this, and Hillary didn’t. Obama was the Ipod of this election, while Clinton was the Walkman. The Walkman is reliable and easy to use and works great, it just doesn’t have the hip factor that an Ipod does.

Obviously, this is only a short list of causes from my own perspective, and equally as important was Obama’s candidacy, his message, and his campaign’s tactical successes.

But in the end, this race was in Hillary Clinton’s hands and it is a race she should have won, no matter her opponent.   

And dealing with a loss where you didn’t have to lose, but for your own actions, is heartwrenching. I do feel for the process she must be going through and will go through. Peace to her.

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