What happened to the Hillary Clinton campaign?

Steffen Schmidt
Steffen Schmidt

According to CBS News reports, in a recent Monmouth University survey 45 percent of likely Iowa voters said they backed Donald Trump, compared to 37 percent who said they favored Hillary Clinton. Compare that to July, when the Republican candidate led the Democrat by only two points. According to their analysis, Trump’s increased support came from independent voters, where he leads by a wide margin. Battleground polls are also showing tight races in Florida and other crucial contests.

How is that possible when Clinton had a 70 percent approval when this race started two years ago? Think of it as a snowball rolling down a hill accumulating bad stuff and getting bigger as it rolls.

It all started with an incomprehensible rollout, when Clinton rode for 16.5 hours in that black “Scooby” van to Iowa for a “listening tour.” No one I’ve interviewed liked that prank. It was intended to make Clinton look more engaged and actually interested in what Iowan’s were concerned about, as if she and her campaign didn’t already know. Oddly the media was not informed about the trip.

The first public stop of her campaign was Kirkwood’s Jones County Campus in Monticello, Iowa. That was April 13, 2015. By then Iowa was crawling with Republican candidates and the media oxygen belonged to the GOP. I clearly remember taking to some lifelong Democrats in Story and Polk Counties who were dying for the Democratic candidates to start a loud and energetic campaign. They were dying for energy. Clinton refused to satisfy that hunger and it was Bernie Sanders who finally filled the gap. On April 15 I wrote The Cedar Rapids Gazette editorial page editor, “Hillary Clinton’s rollout is at best weird.” And that day I submitted a column, which ended, “I think it would be much better if Hillary Clinton would satisfy the hunger by so many Iowa Democrats to meet and greet her. Hiding behind armored vehicles with secret service agents swarming and not energizing the base of the party is exactly the wrong thing for 2016.”

“This Clinton rollout looks more “Where’s Waldo” than Scooby Doo,” I wrote at the time. In retrospect, that first tour was emblematic a campaign that has deteriorated over the months to where her poll numbers are now scary low for her.

Pile on top of that:

1. The continuing “drip, drip, drip” of the email scandals.

2. Revelations that the Democratic National Committee and by some reliable accounts that the Iowa Democratic Party were stacked against Bernie Sanders and heavily leaning toward Clinton.

3. Clinton Foundation financial issues.

4. Her collapse at the Sept. 11 memorial and secrecy surrounding her pneumonia.

5. Her campaign’s incomprehensible low-energy response to the terrorist bombing in New York in September.


Then there is the new data that her campaign has been weak in social media fundraising, relying instead on face-to-face meetings with very large donors. This is bad. When a person gives $27 to a candidate they want to collect the “dividends” of that donation by voting for that candidate. That was Bernie Sanders’ magic sauce. When a billionaire gives, that’s just one vote.

Polls are not the general election. Only on election night will we know if the Trump phenomenon shrivels up and Clinton emerges victorious despite a terrible campaign. Despite polls, Clinton still has the electoral map advantage. And the first debate on Monday could change the dynamics of this election.

Even so, my focus group of 15 experts said this week, “There are just so many incomprehensible campaign decisions in the Clinton campaign that it will become a case study in political science courses on how not to run a presidential campaign.”

• Steffen Schmidt is professor of political science at Iowa State University. Comments: steffenschmidt2005@gmail.com

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