WASHINGTON – Ask a dozen die-hard Democrats around the country what Hillary Rodham Clinton can do to beat Barack Obama and win the presidential nomination and they have plenty of ideas — some of them contradictory.
The question generates strong sentiment, though, that Clinton simply can’t compete on charisma, that there are forces at play beyond her control. Going negative could backfire, they warn. Laying out nitty-gritty policy details isn’t enough, they say.
There’s no shortage of advice, but also no shortage of head-scratching. Add it all up, and there doesn’t appear to be a secret plan to save her candidacy.
A sampling of Democratic voices from the field:
–SHOW PASSION: “The challenge for Hillary Clinton is to be seen as an agent of change, to recapture the passion that the people who support her really have for her,” says Kari Chisholm, a political consultant in Oregon who blogs at www.blueoregon.com. “I’m not sure that I’d want to be in the shoes on her team. … She’s considered the same old, same old, and she’s not. But she’s having trouble communicating that.” Chisholm said Clinton should hit her universal health care message harder, stop using Washington insiders to defend her on cable TV and “find a way to communicate some excitement.” Chisholm supported John Edwards, and says he could go either way between Clinton and Obama.
–IT’S THE ECONOMY. AGAIN: “HRC’s firewall must be predicated on message,” says Chris Lehane, a political consultant in California and former aide to President Clinton. “She is THE candidate who the public, press and pundits by instinct, temperament and history believe is the best on the economy at the exact time the economy is THE brooding, omnipresent force hovering over both the primary and general electorate.” Lehane is backing Clinton.
–GO NEGATIVE: “She needs to come in strong,” says Judy Carpenter, a third-grade teacher from Delaware, Ohio, who turned out at a Clinton rally at Ohio State last week. “I don’t like vicious attacks. But gosh darn, she needs to call him on some things.” Carpenter supports Clinton.
–MAYBE NOT: A candidate goes negative “at great risk,” says Mitch Ceasar, the party chairman in Florida’s Broward County. “You can alienate people. It’s less of a risk for Republicans, because they’re better at it and everybody expects it from them.” Clinton, he says, should “talk about the distinctions” between herself and Obama on the issues.
–DEFINITELY NOT: Going negative “positively would be the absolutely wrong thing to do,” says Ed Treacy, a former county party chairman in Indiana. “Democrats do not want to see them fighting at all. … I’m not sure what she can do. So much of it is his momentum.” Treacy hasn’t endorsed a candidate.
–THE FORCE: “The most important thing is that the force is with Obama,” says Glenn Browder, a former Alabama congressman and now professor emeritus at Jacksonville State University. “The election seems to be moving in his favor, and I don’t believe that issues have much to do with it right now. It’s not as if she could all of a sudden start pointing this or that out about his positions or his votes, and that would change things very much. He is a movement that goes beyond issues.” Going negative could backfire on Clinton, Browder says, but it might help if the media or independent groups took on Obama. Browder is neutral in the race.
–REMEMBER IRAQ: “If she could come up with a more specific war plan,” says Marcia Mainord, president of Texas Democratic Women. “That’s what I hear people talking about. Who’s going to end the war.” Mainord is personally supporting Clinton but hasn’t made a formal endorsement.
–BE YOURSELF: “She’s a very engaging, very warm person if she lets that side of her be seen,” says Warren Tolman, a former Massachusetts state senator. “There’s a very warm, compassionate side that isn’t often enough seen.” Three things Clinton should do, according to Tolman: “Be yourself. Show compassion. Look like she’s having fun.” Tolman has endorsed Obama.
–READY TO DELIVER: “There is a narrative to be told that she hasn’t quite put all together,” says Tom Swan, who directs a citizen action group in Connecticut. “But she’s close, on health care and her experience and her scars make her the one who can deliver now.” Swan voted in the Connecticut primary but hasn’t publicly endorsed anyone.
–GRASS-ROOTS ORGANIZE: “I am obsessive about precinct-based organizing,” says Michael Dukakis, the 1988 Democratic nominee who lost to George H.W. Bush. “We’ve got to get serious about this stuff. It’s not just money and media.” Dukakis, teaching a course this winter at UCLA, says Obama has done more local organizing than Clinton. He adds that neither candidate should be faulted for failing to do much of it in Ohio and Texas, which vote March 4, because no one thought the nomination race would extend beyond Super Tuesday. Dukakis hasn’t endorsed a candidate.
–STEADY AS SHE GOES: “You’ve got a strategy, stick with the strategy,” says Jim Crog, a longtime party operative in Florida. “Ride it and make it work. One of the most detrimental things a campaign can be involved in is a what-if campaign: What if we do this? What if we do that? You’ll be literally bouncing around the room and off the walls.” Crog hasn’t endorsed a candidate.
–McCAIN FACTOR: “She’s got to convince Democrats that, contrary to what the polls now show, that in the end she’s going to be a better candidate against John McCain,” says Garry South, a longtime Democratic operative in California. Can she still win the nomination? “Unfortunately, I don’t think there is a secret formula,” says South. “There comes a time when the worm turns, when the momentum shift is clear. And when that sort of thing happens, there just aren’t a lot of options for the candidate who is trailing at that point.” South hasn’t endorsed a candidate.