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With No Clear Winner, Spin Wars Fierce

By Matthew Mosk
As returns rolled in from around the country, Hillary Clinton's campaign staff showed how aggressively they would try to exert control over the night's unfolding story.

Talking points that are generally delivered covertly to supporters were e-mailed directly to the news media. At 7:27 p.m., the message from inside the Clinton campaign was, "We're excited by what we're seeing."

At 9:05 p.m., word of a Clinton victory in Massachusetts was declared the "upset of the night," in an email sent out by Clinton spokesman Phil Singer that carried the subject line, "MASSACHUSETTS ALERT." Barack Obama had the backing of the state's two U.S. Senators and its governor and still lost, Singer noted. "This is a strong victory and shows that Hillary Clinton has strength in places where Barack Obama was expected to win," he wrote. Not mentioned was that recent surveys collected on the website show Clinton had consistently held a lead in the state for most of the past few weeks. Obama only finished ahead of her in one of 15 polls listed on the site.

On the flip side was Alabama. Polls in that state showed a tight race, with Clinton holding a steady lead until mid-January, when she and Obama appeared to be running nearly even. At 9:45, as the Alabama contest was called for Obama, Singer sent out an email under the subject line, "Alabama tidbits," that explained, essentially, that Clinton had not really tried to win the state.

"In Alabama, the Obama Campaign outspent the Clinton Campaign by 4 times on the airwaves," Singer wrote. "Sen. Obama spent over $356,000 on television ads and was up for nearly two weeks; we were up for 5 days and spent $80,000. Sen. Obama has had staff and significant campaign operation across the state for months. Sen. Clinton only deployed staff to the state in the last couple of weeks."

The Obama team's effort at spinning the results was tame by comparison. Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton sent out one email that said, "The win in Georgia tonight is Barack's strongest showing among female voters of any contest so far." At 10:35 p.m., another campaign official sent out a list of polls showing that Clinton had held a steady lead in most of the Feb. 5 states -- though it failed to account for the more recent Obama surge captured by polls in the past few days.

At 10:44, another Obama adviser sent out an email announcing that a "surprisingly strong performances in Senator Clinton's backyard has Senator Obama in a strong position on Super Tuesday."

But by then, Sen. Clinton had emerged to celebrate her Feb. 5 wins on live television -- in advance of the 11 o'clock news. On television on this Super Tuesday night, Obama would have to wait and go second.

By Web Politics Editor  |  February 5, 2008; 11:30 PM ET
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