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About That Mike Henry Memo

By Peter Baker
So was Mike Henry right? Henry was the deputy campaign manager for Hillary Rodham Clinton who last May urged her to skip Iowa and concentrate her resources on later states, particularly the Super Tuesday primaries on Feb. 5. His memo leaked and the campaign quickly renounced it. But was he right?

As part of a reconstruct of the past few weeks and months of the Clinton campaign that ran in the Post this morning, we asked a variety of her top strategists and advisers. After all, looking back today, Henry seems pretty prescient. He called Iowa "our consistently weakest state" and said competing there "will cost over $15M and require 70+ days of Senator Clinton's time" but "we will not have a financial advantage or an organizational advantage over any of our opponents." As a result, he wrote, "this effort may bankrupt the campaign and provide little if any political advantage."

Instead, he urged her to focus more on the Feb. 5 states, including New York, New Jersey and California. He calculated that the first four states -- Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire and South Carolina -- pick 137 delegates to the nominating convention, or 0.3 percent of all pledged delegates. By contrast, Florida, which votes Jan. 29, and the Feb. 5 states will pick 2,205 delegates, or 66.7 percent of the total, he wrote. A split decision of Iowa and the early states, he concluded would mean that "we now enter into the February 5th mega states with no money, little time to raise it, and have to rely on earned media to get our message out."

In the hindsight-is-perfect department, Henry if anything underestimated the cost. Clinton ended up spending somewhere between $20 million and $25 million in Iowa, though she devoted somewhat less time than he predicted, all or part of 64 days. For all that effort, she came in third place. If it were not for her comeback victory in New Hampshire, she might be toast now, but she does head toward the Feb. 5 showdown with a lot less money and less time on the ground in the more than 20 states that will vote.

Still, most campaign advisers interviewed in recent days have said there was no real choice for Clinton, who aspired to be the most presidential and electable candidate. "She had to go into Iowa," said Mickey Kantor, who was her husband's campaign chairman in 1992 and advises her campaign as well. "You all were going to make Iowa a big deal whether she was there or not. That being the case, she had to play."

A top Clinton campaign official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal strategy, agreed and said there was no point second guessing. "There was a debate internally in the campaign by some -- should we go to Iowa, should we not go to Iowa?" the official recalled. "For me, it was never a question. Hillary Clinton is a national candidate. She had to show she can run everywhere and win everywhere."

Still, the Clintons seemed to leave Iowa with a taste of bitterness. Asked a few days before the Iowa vote whether he agreed that the state's caucuses were unfair and ought to be eliminated, Bill Clinton said no. "Obviously, we don't feel that way about it," he said. But it looked a little different after the vote. "Iowa does not have the best track record in determining who the parties nominate," Hillary Clinton told reporters the day after the caucuses. She added that Iowa "disenfranchised" voters who work at night or were out of state because it does not allow absentee ballots in its caucuses. "So this is going to be a much more representative electorate," she said in New Hampshire.

And next time Mike Henry sends her a memo, maybe she'll give it a second read.

By Web Politics Editor  |  January 10, 2008; 11:39 AM ET
Categories:  Morning Cheat Sheet  
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