Obama Rose. Clinton Slid Fast. Why?

Article excerpt

When the dust had settled after Super Tuesday, Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton were locked in a dead heat for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Since then, over the past two weeks, Senator Obama has gone on a tear, winning 10 straight primaries and caucuses, and forcing Senator Clinton's back to the wall. Obama now leads the former first lady by almost every conceivable measure - total delegates, total popular vote, national polls, and finances.

What happened? On Clinton's part, her straits represent a massive failure of planning and organization, analysts say. Her campaign operated on the assumption she would have the nomination effectively locked up with the 22 contests on Feb. 5, and it spent accordingly. The lack of a Plan B has left her scrambling for cash and organizing late in the post-Super Tuesday contests.

That this is happening to the Clintons - until this campaign, a team skilled like no other in Democratic politics in running and winning elections - has left the political world dumbfounded. But even the senator's supporters see how one faulty, central assumption can lead to disaster.

"If an entire campaign strategy is framed around the belief that a particular date will be decisive, and if in the face of contrary evidence you find it difficult to abandon that assumption, then it's possible to be very smart and experienced and still be caught short," says William Galston, a former senior adviser to President Clinton who backs Hillary Clinton's campaign.

Obama, in contrast, has put together a team that appears to work well together, and has fashioned and executed a game plan skillfully, Mr. Galston says.

"People are going to be writing about his campaign for a long time, as a textbook of how to take advantage of changing circumstances - and to leverage your strengths while muting your weaknesses," says Galston, now a senior fellow of governance at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

The stark contrast in how the campaigns have unfolded raises an inevitable question: Do they indicate how each of the candidates would operate as president? For Clinton, whose own husband is telling voters she has to win both Texas and Ohio on March 4 to remain viable, the question is acute. As she vows to voters that she would be ready to lead the nation from Day 1, are they noticing the failings in the largest enterprise she has ever run?

Probably not. At the same time, Obama's skill in putting together a team, and foreseeing and planning for a long campaign, may not tell the public much about how he would operate as president. …