Bob Franken

Expectations Game Defense

February 13, 2008
Expectations Game Defense (Bob Franken)
@ 9:32 am

Am I wrong, or has Hillary Clinton painted herself into a corner? Actually it’s two corners, really, in Texas and Ohio.

It seems to be “do or die” for her in the March 4 primaries in those two states. Think Giuliani and Florida. In order to slow down Barack Obama’s momentum and shore up the dwindling confidence of the campaign contributors, Hillary and her managers have told us to bank on the 4th of March as a Comeback Day. Still another one.

Never mind, they argue, what has happened in that string of elections and caucuses that followed Super Tuesday; those didn’t really mean that much anyway. Her rebound begins in Texas and Ohio, where she’s the favorite.

But those primaries are three weeks from now, a lot of time for the Obama bandwagon to pick up steam as it roars into Texas and Ohio. Will it roll over her entrenched organizations there?

In other words, has she set herself up for a fall? In expressing confidence about winning the two states, is she in danger of losing the all-important “Expectations Game”?

It would look that way. If Obama beats her in either Texas or Ohio, he’s the underdog who defied the odds. If she wins, big deal.

True, it would mean a lot of delegates, but perception is critically important too. She cannot afford to lose that battle.

What Hillary Clinton needs is a brilliant performance in each and every one of the upcoming televised debates. That raises some interesting questions about whether a decision to pull out of the MSNBC debate in Cleveland on Feb. 26 would be cutting off her nose to spite her face.

The bigger question is: How in the hell did she get to this point? How has she been so outmaneuvered up to now that Obama is widely portrayed as the bright future, while she’s increasingly perceived as the dismal past?

It’s easy for the Clintons and their managers to blame unfriendly media. That’s the usual refuge of a disgruntled candidate and her supporters. Here’s the hard fact: The best way to gauge the ability of political professionals is how well they manage public perception, including media. That’s obvious. Is the perception of Hillary Clinton what she would like it to be? Hardly.

We don’t know how deep the Clinton campaign will dig as it reorganizes. It sure looks like the Clinton strategists are being out-strategized by Barack Obama’s. They have three weeks to turn things around.

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