Hillary Clinton's campaign circulated a memo to top allies in Washington this week with an unmistakably Obama-esque theme: Don't worry, we've got this.
It comes at a time when Clinton's elite Acela-corridor allies have watched her battle flagging approval and honesty ratings, an investigation into the handling of her State Department emails, a surprisingly robust challenge from Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, and the possible entrance of Vice President Joe Biden into the race. And they've watched it all play out in the newspapers they read and on the television shows they watch. Some of them have started to freak out a little bit.
The six-page memo, written by campaign manager Robby Mook and distributed in DC Monday by communications director Jennifer Palmieri, argues that there's no reason for Clinton's backers to panic.
"Winning campaigns have a plan and stick to it, in good times and bad. President Obama endured significant pressure in 2007 to abandon his strategy, but his campaign remained focused on winning in Iowa and ultimately prevailed," Mook wrote.
The crux of his argument is that Clinton holds leads in national polling over Republican opponents, Democrats have such a built-in Electoral College advantage that it would be hard for Clinton to screw it up, and Republicans will "drive their brand further under water by 'out Trumping' each other at debates."
The larger issue is whether the campaign's response to a barrage of negative news — from Justice Department involvement in the email controversy to a Wednesday poll showing Sanders leading Clinton in New Hampshire — will prove that the Clinton operation has learned the right lessons from her devastating primary loss in 2008. Back then, her aides failed to fully appreciate the threat that Barack Obama could beat her, and when things started going south, they hit the panic button over and over like anxious children trying to call an elevator.
Her aides have promised that this campaign will be different, and Mook's memo seems aimed at reinforcing that message both by acknowledging the adversity Clinton's faced and outlining, in broad strokes, why campaign operatives are confident they have the right plan for victory.
"While the Republicans are mired in an increasingly bizarre and contentious primary, where even the would-be frontrunners are struggling to be heard, Hillary Clinton stands in a very strong position to win the Democratic primary and the general election," Mook wrote.
Clinton's team sees an easy path for the Democratic nominee in 2016
The most important lines in Mook's memo are the two that marginalize the significance of his boss.
Assuming the Democrats continue to win Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan (all of which they’ve won in every election since 1992), Democrats will need 23 out of the 85 electoral votes in remaining swing states Nevada, New Hampshire, Iowa, Colorado, Virginia, Ohio, and Florida. Minority voters represent key voting blocks [sic] in five of these states and the GOP is doing virtually nothing to appeal to these voters.
There's little question that most Democrats believe they have fundamentally remade the American electoral map, and that means Mook's observation should reassure them. But it's not a universally held view. Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight has argued that "a general election win by Clinton — she’s very likely to become the Democratic nominee — is roughly a 50/50 proposition."
What about that "blue wall" — the supposed advantage that Democrats hold in the Electoral College?
Mostly, the "blue wall" was the effect of Obama’s success in 2008 and 2012, not the cause of it. If the economy had collapsed in the summer of 2012, Obama would probably have lost the election, and most of those blue states would have turned red.
So will the map make the woman, or will the woman make the map? It's all a long way off. But since Democrats are inclined to believe that their growing numbers — their "emerging majority" — were responsible for Obama's victory, it's reasonable to assume that Democratic operatives and voters would be assuaged by Mook's nod to the "blue wall."
So what's their actual plan?
Mook understood the likelihood that his memo would make it into the public domain, so it's not brimming with the campaign's most closely held secrets. But he did break down the campaign's plan into four parts.
- Messaging: Mook pointed to the campaign's first two TV ads, Clinton's proposals on policies ranging from Wall Street regulations to criminal justice reform, and the fighter persona she's trying to cultivate. In each case, he said, the message works for both the primary and general elections.
- Raising hard money: The $46 million Clinton has raised in so-called hard money, the donations capped at $2,700 per person, is more valuable than the Super PAC money that some Republican candidates are relying on. That's because the official campaign is guaranteed the lowest rate for its TV ads. Mook also notes that it helps build the campaign's organization across the country by engaging people at the grassroots level.
- Using data: Without data, ironically, Mook claims the campaign is building a fearsome data, analytics and technology team. "These early investments will reap rewards in fundraising, targeting and voter turnout for many months to come."
- Building a ground game: He notes that there's a pledged Clinton caucus-goer in each of Iowa's 1,682 precincts and that the campaign is working to build volunteer and voter bases in New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada, as well. He also notes that Clinton has a stronger online following than either she or Obama had at this point in the 2008 cycle. Of course, that's not saying much given the explosion of social media in recent years.
David Plouffe, who ran Obama's 2008 campaign, likes to admonish fellow Democrats not to be bed-wetters. Mook's memo is aimed at ensuring the sheets are dry in the Clinton camp.