December 11th, 2008
01:09 PM ET
14 years ago

Obama aide: How Clinton may have won

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="Plouffe managed Obama's campaign."]

(CNN) - Would Hillary Clinton have won the prolonged Democratic primary race if David Plouffe was managing her campaign?

Plouffe served as Obama’s campaign manager and is often referred to as the "unsung hero" of the president-elect's White House bid. He was largely responsible for designing the strategy that ultimately dashed Clinton's own ambitions for the Oval office.

Now, the camera-shy Plouffe is revealing what surprised him the most about Clinton’s campaign: the New York senator's strategists willingness to concede a string of caucus states to the Obama camp. In the process Obama won a vast sum of delagates and created a lead in the delegate count that ultimately proved fatal to Clinton's chances.

"We were surprised because at some point it became likely that it was going to be a battle that went on for some time, and delegates that are gained through a caucus are no different than through a primary—so every contest mattered," Plouffe told Portfolio Magazine.

“They ceded the field to us for a long period of time," Plouffe also said. "I think if they had contested those caucus states, we might've won those caucus states but we wouldn't have won them 55-35 [percent]."

Given that the Democratic party appropriates it's delegates proportionately, Ploffe said the wide margins of victory in the caucus states ultimately gave the Obama campaign a nearly insurmountable lead by mid-March.

"I guarantee if they had contested them vigorously, our margins would've been shrunk," he said. "And that's the tale of the campaign. Otherwise we didn't rack up the huge landslide. We did in some of the primary states for sure, Virginia was a big win, Wisconsin was a big win, but those caucuses provided us a huge delegate lead."

soundoff (198 Responses)
  1. Jon, Louisiana

    Hillary was Over Coached to the point she had no idea what she even stood for . Obama came from the Heart

    December 11, 2008 02:29 pm at 2:29 pm |
  2. Party Pooper

    That is what happens when you underestimate your opponent. The Russian US Hockey Team and the 1969 Baltimore Colts come to mind.

    December 11, 2008 02:30 pm at 2:30 pm |
  3. Dr. Stoner

    the problem also is there is no record of how many people voted in the caucaus states so therefore the popular vote was nullified just like with Gore v Bush. Thats all h2o under the bridge now, we will see just how brilliant and good ol Obama is over the next 3 1/2 yrs., if this corruption scandle follows him he maybe a brief pause to a new President in 2012.

    December 11, 2008 02:31 pm at 2:31 pm |
  4. Lainie

    "appropriates ITS delegates proportionately." Please – don't you hire college graduates? You need a copy editor reviewing material before it is posted. Stop insulting your readers.

    December 11, 2008 02:31 pm at 2:31 pm |
  5. Joseph Adewole

    Though its all over now, the real fact was that Hillary underrated your campaign so much that she thought America was hers to take; that caucus States was a waist of tome. in politics, you don't take anything for granted; above all, you don't underrate your opponent.

    December 11, 2008 02:32 pm at 2:32 pm |
  6. Dave

    if Hillary was Barack, she would've won. if McCain was McCain, he would've had a chance.

    December 11, 2008 02:33 pm at 2:33 pm |
  7. Simply another politician

    His team is brilliant, but Obma is not, he inexperienced and unqualified. Now he has to rely on Bush's secretary of defemse, and Hillary Clinotn as his foreign policy expert. Bush is brilliant. Hillary Clinton, or Joe Biden, should have been our first choice for commander-in-chief in a dangerous world.

    December 11, 2008 02:34 pm at 2:34 pm |
  8. EartHchild

    Michelle is one lucky girl!

    December 11, 2008 02:37 pm at 2:37 pm |
  9. Just a NYker

    I went to one of Hillary's talk at the crowd campain stops in Albany. Her problem was this she could have stepped two paces to the right of the crowd and shaken my hand. Problem she did not feel the need to do that and I saw the look in her eyes as she turned and ascended the steps at the Capital. She had that look of who can challange me, I a natural leader, well I did support her but I felt taken for GRANTED.If she ever runs again she had better remember that. Also if Caroline Kennedy does run, she better shake every hand out reached to her too.

    December 11, 2008 02:37 pm at 2:37 pm |
  10. WW in NY

    In regards to ..."appropriates it's delegates..." – I can't believe the grammar/punctuation that journalists get away with. Isn't this their job?

    December 11, 2008 02:37 pm at 2:37 pm |
  11. Jan. 20th, 2009

    Clinton and McCain ran 20th century campaigns, Obama ran a 21st century campaign. Clinton's team miscalculated and ran out of money thinking it would be over by Super Tuesday. McCain wins primary by using a broad appeal, then spends the general election appealling to a conservative base that never liked him. I am glad neither one of them is president because they showed poor leadership for their own cause.

    December 11, 2008 02:38 pm at 2:38 pm |
  12. Cindy

    Who cares !!!!! They are big happy family now

    December 11, 2008 02:38 pm at 2:38 pm |
  13. Don, NY

    She still deserved to win. People are easy bought.

    December 11, 2008 02:38 pm at 2:38 pm |
  14. S.B. Stein E.B. NJ

    If Clinton had taken each contest at a time and looked beyond Super Dooper Tuesday, then she could have been the nominee. It was her arrogance that she was entitled to the nomination is what undid her. I would not have advised her to run for president at all.

    December 11, 2008 02:39 pm at 2:39 pm |
  15. Democrat In Nebraska

    I have enjoyed the wisdom and subtle irony of this quote for a long time, and I believe it applies here:

    Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.
    – Napoleon Bonaparte

    December 11, 2008 02:39 pm at 2:39 pm |
  16. Eric'n AZ

    As a primary volunteer in Arizona we went to Nevada several times to work the caucuses. That's all they talked about and they knew it was their strength. I talked to many of the Hillary volunteers (friends) they really did underestimate the caucuses and the Obama campaign itself. Their mentatily was that they felt she was entitled to the win. The O' camp realized that they had to fight and push on and boy did they!

    December 11, 2008 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
  17. David

    We can all debate what the results would have been. The fact of the matter is this was a time that America was ready for Change. The changing of the old guard to the new. Everyone keeps forgetting that Obama is much younger than his other opponents. I think the press and the other candidates under estimated the generation X that wanted something different. Its no wonder that Obama used the internet and other technology to beat his opponents. Campaigns in the future will use his model to raise cash and collect voter names and get the vote out campaign on election day. In other words Obama was a game changer.

    December 11, 2008 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
  18. tcaudilllg

    Clinton's chances were torpedoed by her vote for the war. Obama just gave a voice to that anger, and offered something to replace it with.

    December 11, 2008 02:42 pm at 2:42 pm |
  19. BABA

    I think Clinton lost because of two reasons :
    1- she underestimated Obama.
    2- Her campagn manager's poor personalite, he's very agitated & talks too much. He should been fired to give Hillary better chance.

    December 11, 2008 02:45 pm at 2:45 pm |
  20. Laverne

    Hillary and her camp did underestimate Obama and the David Plouffe strategic political team. However, I do think some things are just meant to be or not to be. It was a strategic blunder to disregard the caucuses. The Obama so an opening and they took it, by the time Hillary realized what was going on, it was too late because Obama had gathered an insurmoutable number of delegates which ultimately caused her the race. I am fine with Hillary, but you have to think, if she was not strategic enough to outsmart, outwit and outlast Obama then perhaps she was not the best one for the job.

    December 11, 2008 02:45 pm at 2:45 pm |
  21. April

    "Clinton, like other weathered politicians, forgot there are 50 states."

    This and her ego killed her shot at the nomination.
    Obama campaigned EVERYWHERE during the primaries and won a lot of the less populated states that the Clinton campaign didn't even acknowledge. He already had an advantage during the general election. I still can't believe he won Indiana.

    If Obama's first term is good like I hope, that "swing-state" term will get left behind in the 20th century.

    December 11, 2008 02:46 pm at 2:46 pm |
  22. Plouffe Forgot One Thing

    Plouffe forgot to mention that if Hillary had cheated in the caucus the way Obama did, she would have won. Obama operatives bused in thousands of people into the caucus states; used ACORN to register hundreds of thousands of dead people, cartoon characters, and people's pets as well as made up people. Tactics like closing the doors to the caucuses as well as telling Hillary supporters they were to vote later or strong arming people into saying they were Obama supporters or making up phony counts like Obama's operatives did would have helped Hillary too. Obama did not win by huge margins. Hillary won the popular vote, something the Democrats forgot mattered since the 2000 General Election. Caucus do not represent the will of the people as many cannot participate in them. Eliminate the caucuses and install primaries in all states and then lets see if someone like Obama can cheat his way into the general election.

    December 11, 2008 02:46 pm at 2:46 pm |
  23. Honestlady

    LOL @ Anonymous!!!!!

    December 11, 2008 02:47 pm at 2:47 pm |
  24. FactCheck

    > That is what happens when you underestimate your opponent. The
    > Russian US Hockey Team and the 1969 Baltimore Colts come to mind.

    The lesson could have also come from a source much closer to her own
    home state, specifically the 2007 NFL Champion New York Giants.

    December 11, 2008 02:47 pm at 2:47 pm |
  25. Dan (TX)

    Another testament to Hillary's superb leadership skills. Anyone know if she's paid off her campaign debt? I wonder if she's paid herself back first?
    The State Department deserves better....

    December 11, 2008 02:47 pm at 2:47 pm |
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