I’m going to start off by suggesting that – if you haven’t already – go read Martin’s article where he puts Bill Clinton’s election and presidency into perspective. That is important because it lays the groundwork for where Hillary Clinton was coming from when she lost the 2008 Democratic primary to Barack Obama. A lot of the mistakes she made in that campaign were actually replicas of things that had worked (and sometimes hadn’t worked) for Bill Clinton. And they are the reason that some people went into this primary concerned about her prospects. But over the course of the last year or so, Hillary has demonstrated that she learned some things.
For 2016, what a lot of people wanted to see was a Clinton campaign staff that wasn’t led by the likes of Mark Penn. This time around, it is not simply that she is being better served by people like John Podesta, Robby Mook, Maya Harris and Joel Benenson, she has put together a staff that is both diverse and creative.
Over 50% of the campaign is female. Of the campaign’s more than 500 staffers nationwide, more than one-third are people of color; nearly 40% of Hillary for America’s senior staff are people of color. Regional press secretary Tyrone Gayle points out that these numbers roughly reflect national demographics…
Each department boasts steals from impressive firms including IBM, General Assembly, Etsy, Yelp, Google, Gawker, Facebook, Kiva, and DreamWorks. The digital team has talent from the New York Times and the analytics team from New York University’s formidable think tank on housing policy. The number of people from within politics is striking—for being so low. Less than half of the analytics team and almost none of the tech team ever held a campaign position.
One of the critiques often leveled at Hillary Clinton is that – because of all of the attacks aimed at her – she has developed a “zone of privacy” that she protects too fiercely. That might still be an issue for her. But the event that I suspect has had the biggest impact on this election so far is the Benghazi hearing. What we witnessed was Clinton being subjected to every insult, lie and attack that Republicans could come up with for eleven hours. Not only did she respond by demonstrating her amazing command of the facts, she neither lashed out nor withdrew – but calmly and competently addressed the questions and withstood the onslaught. It gave an awful lot of people confidence that she’ll be able to campaign and govern in an equally challenging environment.
The next move from Hillary that demonstrated what she’s learned since 2008 was her willingness to embrace the legacy of President Obama and build a firewall of support among African Americans and Latinos. These were two separate decisions, but one wouldn’t have happened without the other. While it’s true that the Clintons have a history of involvement with communities of color, that connection was strained during the 2008 primary – especially for African Americans. It was important for Hillary to mend those fences. She has done a superb job on that front.
The result of those efforts are one of the biggest reasons why Clinton has such a commanding lead in this primary. To get a feel for that, take a look at the results of the 2008 primary.
Clinton is currently working on replicating her results from 8 years ago (gold). But to that she has now added the Southern states that were won by Obama. That has been accomplished primarily by her “firewall” of support from people of color in those states.
All of that relates to how Hillary Clinton is campaigning this time around. What remains to be seen is how she will govern if she wins. I suspect that she will implement a different theory of change from what we’ve seen with President Obama. That is to be expected. It is important for any president to play to their own strengths rather than attempt to replicate other’s. On domestic policy, we already know that Clinton will work to maintain and build on the progress we’ve seen over the last 8 years. Where she has diverged slightly from Obama is on her approach to foreign policy – which is the one remaining area of concern for some of us.