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. obama-mama

    No Hillary – No Obama, PAT PAT PAT

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

    That's partially the answer – and showed a clear understanding of the "rules of the game". Certainly, it showed in Iowa where Obama pulled it off and Hillary was 3rd and in most of the other caucus states.

    However, it didn't hurt Obama's cause one bit that Bill Clinton completely alienated the African-American voters with his diatribes in NH (something about the "fantasy" of Obama"s campaign) and his racial dismissal of the SC primary results. This was the turning point that provided momentum for Obama to get through Super Tuesday with virtually a draw.

    Hillary had no strategy after Super Tuesday because the process was rigged from the beginning by the DNC to produce a "winner" bye Super Tuesday and as the clear frontrunner and architect of that process, Hillary was supposed to be the annointee. When that didn't happen, her campaign took much more than a month to recover – and by then, the math was virtually impossible.

    December 11, 2008 02:47 pm at 2:47 pm |
  3. Ms. B in California

    Obama won because people were tired of the same old politics and the undermindedness that our Politicains have for the American poeple. She played it safe and thought she had the people figured out. That is how McCain lost also. Same old thing, different day.

    December 11, 2008 02:48 pm at 2:48 pm |
  4. President McCain

    I was this close.

    December 11, 2008 02:50 pm at 2:50 pm |
  5. Phil in KC

    Well, duh. I, too, was surprised that they ceded the caucus states. It's as if they were telling us the caucus states didn't matter or were 2nd rate states.
    I, for one, strongly support the caucus process. Hillary's answer was to denigrate the process and infer that they didn't matter; that they weren't true political contests.
    That's no way to win friends and influence enemies. I think she got what she deserved, in the end.

    December 11, 2008 02:51 pm at 2:51 pm |
  6. Paddyboy

    No Hillary, you are (still) misguided. You continue to misguide yourself.

    Hillary lost her campaign without any help from the media's "lack of acknowledging sexism / infatuation with Obama."

    Hills came in the prohibitive front-runner. She surrounded herself with old-school lackeys, and ran a campaign based on loyalty, not merit (sounds kinda like Dubya by now, hm?). She lost.

    Ignoring caucus states was stupid, Then they decided to 'change the math' to 'popular vote', which is another way of...ignoring caucus states.

    Let me repeat, for all those who try to delude themselves into thinking otherwise. Hillary could've, and should've, won. Had she run a competent campaign (seriously, her manager thought that states were all-or-nothing delegate wins, like the GOP!). She ran an incompetent campaign, she refused to acknowledge or address her own bad management (I kinda lost confidence in her ability to run a country by that point – if she couldn't even run a campaign), she started coming up with stranger stuff (sniper fire? Hello? And what was with the fake 'Midwest' accent when she campaigned in Indiana and Kentucky?).

    Hillary lost on her own.

    December 11, 2008 02:53 pm at 2:53 pm |
  7. rachel

    Hmm and he still didnt win the primary by that much.

    December 11, 2008 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  8. Irritated in Fl

    Everyone knows it was the flood of fraudulant votes that gave Osama the primary. Hillary should have contested every win that mutt had. He was a nobody with powerful backing and the knowledge of how to cheat. After that, the people of America just got hoodwinked.

    December 11, 2008 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  9. vgd

    "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]."

    55 and 35 do not add to 100. 🙂 Scary math.

    December 11, 2008 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  10. Surprised Not

    I hate discussing "what if" scenarios. As of right now, Hillary and Barack are on the same team. What happened this past Spring doesn't matter now.

    Obama / Biden 2008 – 2016
    Clinton / McAuliffe 2016 – 2024

    Democrats RULE BABY!!!

    December 11, 2008 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  11. cat

    I am just glad she choose a LOSER to be her campaign manager.
    and Barack Choose a WINNER....Pat on the back, pat on the back

    December 11, 2008 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  12. Independent Citizen - VA

    Water under the bridge...time to move on. Obama has gained the support and trust of a large number of Americans (myself included). If he runs the country as brilliantly as he did his campaign, the next 4 to 8 years will be a refreshing breath of fresh air.

    December 11, 2008 02:55 pm at 2:55 pm |
  13. Jacie - San Leandro, Ca

    David makes an interesting point, but now that the election is over it was that Obama never changed his message, he won by sticking to the facts and being on step ahead of his opponents.

    The one who runs a swift race always wins!

    December 11, 2008 02:55 pm at 2:55 pm |
  14. The problem

    Wow...I have this new product out there called "Cherry flavored Hatorade"!!! I'm sure you non-Obama voters and rethuglicans would love it.!!!

    I also have it in "sad blueberry" and "poor orange" flavors to quench your hate!!!!!!!

    OBAMA FOREVER!!!!!!!

    December 11, 2008 02:56 pm at 2:56 pm |
  15. petunia politik

    What the Obama supporters are forgetting is the caucus fraud which was widespread and rampant throughout Texas and other states. Bullying, locking Hillary supporters out, and other tactics were used to boost his delegate count. How do you explain the illogical ratio of her popular vote wins in those states to her delgate wins...

    Dream on. Obama won due to the usual dirty Chicago political tactics, and the collusion with the DNC and the superdelegates who were bought and paid for by Nancy Pelosi and The Hope Fund.

    David Plouffe, lol.

    December 11, 2008 02:56 pm at 2:56 pm |
  16. Dino

    As long as McCain/Caribou Barbie and the Republicans didn't win. That's all that counts. Bush and his right-wing facists have literally ruined the world in the past 8 years.

    December 11, 2008 02:56 pm at 2:56 pm |
  17. tired of corporate politics

    The Obama folks were already smearing her as a b**ch, etc. If she had tried to stand up to the caucus manipulation she would have been called worse things. If she conceded, look-at-me types like this guy are calling her too weak.

    When will women be taken seriously in power?

    Then there is the brilliant political science commentary "If Clinton would have taken off those awful pants suits and put on a skirt I would have given her my support. " I don't even know where to start with this basement philosopher....

    December 11, 2008 02:58 pm at 2:58 pm |
  18. D.Fitzpatrick

    The most interesting thing about this Ticker post is the misuse of the verb "may" in the headline. At first read, I thought, What-? Clinton may, in fact, have won? Has some primary recount been done and we're all in for another rollercoaster ride? Oh noooooo!

    The correct verb would have been "might."

    December 11, 2008 02:58 pm at 2:58 pm |
  19. Bridgette-PA

    "Dr. Stoner" – Are you really a Doctor? If so, what's up with your spelling! You have no right to "bash" anyone, anywhere at anytime if you can't spell correctly! IDIOT!

    December 11, 2008 03:05 pm at 3:05 pm |
  20. PHS in RI

    coulda, woulda, shoulda.........

    December 11, 2008 03:06 pm at 3:06 pm |
  21. Ambrose Smith, Borrego Springs, California

    Clinton underestimated Obama just like McCain did.

    December 11, 2008 03:07 pm at 3:07 pm |
  22. Michael

    The Clinton campaign was arrogant. They spent an unholy amount of money to get Hillary re-elected to the senate in 2006 against a no-name candidate. But, they didn't invest large sums of money in caucus states. Let's face it. The Clinton campaign thought the contest would be over after February. Once reality smacked them in the face after Iowa, they didn't have enough money to start-up operations in the smaller caucus states.

    December 11, 2008 03:07 pm at 3:07 pm |
  23. Sara from Arizona

    Serious Clinton fatigue here.

    December 11, 2008 03:08 pm at 3:08 pm |
  24. Patty

    No Hillary = No Obama December 11th, 2008 2:13 pm ET

    . . . So while all these Obama people are patting themselves on the back, it was the media that basically elected Obama.

    EXACTLY !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! But there always comes a day or reckoning . . . .

    December 11, 2008 03:08 pm at 3:08 pm |
  25. Dream Team

    A dream team, so brilliant that they can make anyone, anyone even Joe-The-Plumber... president-elect.

    December 11, 2008 03:08 pm at 3:08 pm |
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