In a strategy session last year Hillary Clinton’s chief strategist Mark Penn confidently predicted that a win in California would put Clinton over the top by picking up 370 state delegates.
There was only one problem with this prediction: it could only happen if Clinton won 100% of the vote, a practical impossibility. You see, as anyone that has followed a Democratic primary knows, delegates are allocated proportionally; it’s not “winner take all” like the GOP. Amazingly it seems that Clinton’s chief strategist didn’t understand one of the most basic aspects of how Democrats choose their nominee, its amateur hour in the Clinton camp!
Even though I suspect someone pointed out his error to him at some point, Clinton’s strategy still seemed to be predicated on that elementary misunderstanding. She focussed her efforts on the big states, while Obama spread his attention across all states, big and small. Her strategy made sense in a winner-take-all system, but those weren’t the rules of the game she was playing.
This is why you now hear Clinton complaining “if we had the Republican system I’d be President right now”. She lost in part because her strategy seemed to assume that the Democrats already used the Republican system!
Now, maybe you feel sympathy for her, losing because of this error, but I don’t. One role of a primary is to test a candidate’s skills at running a large organization. This is particularly important when the candidates are Senators, as opposed to Governors who (one assumes) already have this kind of experience.
A big part of a President’s job is choosing the right people for the most powerful roles in the United States. If she can choose a chief strategist that doesn’t have a clue about the strategy of winning a democratic primary, what would that say about the people she would put in charge of our government should she be elected President?
The good news is that barring some kind of unanticipated calamity, Obama has won the primary, and from there I give him 3:1 odds on being the next US President.