On the campaign trail, in a new ad and in her meetings with donors and superdelegates, she blasts the D.C. punditocracy for counting her out and urges anyone who’ll listen to ignore the hardening storyline that places Obama as the Democratic presidential nominee.
The goal is twofold. Clinton, a New York senator, wants to stanch the flow of uncommitted superdelegates to Obama, an Illinois senator, by convincing them she can still win the nomination. She also wants to generate a protest vote in the four states that have yet to hold primaries, as well as in Puerto Rico.
The Clinton camp believes a media backlash drove up turnout among her supporters in West Virginia, which last week delivered a landslide 67 percent to 26 percent victory for her.
“Because I believe that I am better prepared to be president and I am more likely to be able to win, I don’t care what the pundits say. I’m going to leave it up to the voters,” Clinton said Friday night at a televised town hall meeting at Portland’s NBC affiliate. She said pundits have been counting her out “since Iowa and the voters always prove them wrong. I mean, I’ve been declared dead so many times and luckily it’s been premature and I’m hoping it stays premature.”
Also on Friday, Clinton’s campaign began airing an ad in Oregon, which holds its primary Tuesday, that pits her against the Beltway media elites.
The ad, titled "What's Right," shows video snippets of a cadre of television show hosts who have dismissed or downplayed Clinton’s chances – NBC’s Tim Russert, ABC’s George Stephanopoulos and MSNBC anchors Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews.
Their voices are muted, and a narrator intones over their images: “In Washington, they talk about who's up and who's down. In Oregon, we care about what's right and what's wrong.”
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The spot goes on to tout Clinton’s support for universal health care and her opposition to “No Child Left Behind” and the Bush administration energy plan.
The late placement of the ad in Oregon is somewhat curious, since Obama is favored to win the state handily and since the state administers its elections by mail. By some estimates, as much as 60 percent of Democratic primary ballots have already been cast.
But the Clinton campaign believes the message will resonate broadly.
“People in the upcoming states don’t want to be told that their voices don’t count and essentially that’s what they’re being told,” said Clinton spokesman Mo Elleithee. “Well, the people of West Virginia didn’t believe that and they sent a very strong message.”
He added: “Every time in this campaign that people have tried to call this race prematurely, the voters have rallied and sent a different message. We saw it after Iowa. We saw it after South Carolina."
Clinton has long complained that the media have treated her more roughly than Obama. But the campaign began courting a media backlash as a central strategy after her surprisingly narrow win in Indiana and crushing loss in North Carolina, which together were characterized by the press as sealing the Democratic presidential nomination for Obama.
Campaign aides were particularly livid at Russert’s election night declaration on MSNBC that, “We now know who the Democratic nominee is going to be, and no one is going to dispute it” – even before the network called Indiana for Clinton.
Clinton’s anti-media ad may tap a vein of distrust of the D.C. establishment that runs deep in the Pacific Northest, thanks to its geographic and cultural distance from the East Coast, said Tim Hibbitts, a Portland-based pollster.
But he sees another strategic motivation behind the ad.
“This may be as much about men as it is about D.C.” or the media, he said, pointing out that all the pundits featured in the ad are men. Polls in Oregon, including one last week by Hibbitt’s firm, have shown Obama leading Clinton among female voters, an important part of her base.
The ad – and the anti-media message – may be an effort to shore up female support, asserted Hibbitts.
“It’s a resentment ploy, basically,” he said. “That all the big boys are trying to push Hillary out of the race, that she’s been treated unfairly by the Russerts and the Stephanopouloses.”
That message, he said, unquestionably “appeals to a certain slice of the electorate out here – particularly among older women.”
The campaign also on Friday began airing two ads in Kentucky, which also votes Tuesday and which she is expected to win, designed to reach another key part of Clinton’s base: blue-collar voters.
The ads present Clinton as a crusading populist who will put the needs of struggling working people over those of “the wealthy and the well connected” and who will end special interest loopholes and cut working families’ taxes.
“It is wrong that a Wall Street money manager making $50 million dollars a year pays a lower percentage of his income in taxes than a nurse or a teacher or a truck driver or an auto worker making $50,000,” she says in one Kentucky ad.
Taken together, the three ads illustrate the nearly 180-degree pivot Clinton’s campaign has made since she entered the race early last year as the overwhelming favorite to secure the Democratic nomination.
Back then, she criticized the anti-corporate, anti-special interest rhetoric of her chief rivals Obama and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards as overly simplistic. She pledged to work with all sides to forge compromises. And her campaign encouraged media characterizations of her as the inevitable nominee.