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Memo to Obama: win Iowa or lose the race

by Karl Rove

TO: Sen­a­tor Barack Oba­ma

FROM: Karl Rove

SUBJECT: How to Beat Hillary

Not that you have asked for advice, but here it is any­way: Iowa is your chance to best her. If you do not do it there, odds are you nev­er will any­where. You are way behind her in most nation­al polls. The only way to change that is to beat her in Iowa so peo­ple around Amer­i­ca take anoth­er look at you. You did a smart thing organ­is­ing effec­tive­ly in the ear­ly pri­ma­ry states. But you can take advan­tage of that only if you win Iowa and keep her from build­ing an over­whelm­ing sense of invin­ci­bil­i­ty and inevitabil­i­ty.

The good news is you have again got “the buzz”. Polls are look­ing bet­ter for you in Iowa and the oth­er ear­ly states. Your press is improv­ing, with your per­for­mance at the Iowa Jef­fer­son-Jack­son din­ner a big help. Hillary Clin­ton has made unforced errors. But she is still the fron­trun­ner and there are sev­er­al things you need to do quick­ly to win.

First, stop act­ing like a vit­a­min-defi­cient Adlai Steven­son. Strik­ing a pose of being high-mind­ed and too pure will not work. Amer­i­cans want to see you scrap­ping and fight­ing for the job, not in a mean or ugly way but in a force­ful and straight­for­ward way.

Hillary may come over as cal­cu­lat­ing and shifty but she looks in con­trol. You, on the oth­er hand, often come over as weak and inef­fec­tu­al. In some debates, you do not even look at her when dis­agree­ing with her, mak­ing it look as if you are afraid of her. She offers you open­ings time and again but you do not take advan­tage of them. Sharp­en your attacks and make them more pre­cise.

Take the exchange in the Philadel­phia debate about Bill and Hillary keep­ing doc­u­ments hid­den about her role as first lady in his White House. She was eva­sive. You spoke next. You would have won a big vic­to­ry if you had turned to her and said: “Sen­a­tor, with all due respect, you and your hus­band could release those doc­u­ments right now if you want­ed to. Your fail­ure to do so rais­es ques­tions among a lot of Amer­i­cans about what you’re hid­ing and those ques­tions would hurt our par­ty if you were our nom­i­nee.” But your response was weak as dirty dish­wa­ter. Do not let oth­er great oppor­tu­ni­ties pass by.

Sec­ond, focus on the fact that many Democ­rats have real doubts about Hillary. They wor­ry she can­not win, will be a drag on the tick­et and that if she got to the White House it would be a dis­as­ter. You know bet­ter than most what they are wor­ried about; they have told you their fears. It is why you have done so well rais­ing mon­ey from Bill’s back­ers and gain­ing sup­port from Clin­ton admin­is­tra­tion offi­cials. Talk about those doubts. Put them in a big­ger con­text than just the two of you. Remind pri­ma­ry vot­ers that these short­com­ings will hurt Demo­c­ra­t­ic chances.

Third, when you cre­ate con­tro­ver­sies do not pick issues where you are play­ing the weak­er hand. For exam­ple, you attacked her for lack­ing for­eign pol­i­cy expe­ri­ence. It is true she was first lady, not sec­re­tary of state, and nobody will ever mis­take her for James Bak­er III. But your qual­i­fi­ca­tions are even thin­ner; you were a state sen­a­tor and lived in Indone­sia when you were six. Big deal. Amer­i­cans think she has more for­eign pol­i­cy expe­ri­ence than you – and she does.

Fourth, when you dis­agree with her be clear about what you believe. You can­not afford more gar­bled respons­es like the one you gave in Las Vegas on dri­vers’ licences for ille­gal aliens. Answer yes or no. Do not give vot­ers evi­dence you are as cal­cu­lat­ing as her.

Fifth, you need to do a bet­ter job explain­ing what kind of change you rep­re­sent. The change theme is a good one and Demo­c­ra­t­ic vot­ers know you were against the war and rep­re­sent the idea of some­thing fresh. But they do not know who you real­ly are, what you want to do and where you want to take the coun­try. Tak­ing her down a few notch­es is step one; telling peo­ple who you are is the next. Both are nec­es­sary.

Sixth, find a way to gen­tly belit­tle her when­ev­er she tries to use dis­agree­ments among Democ­rats as an excuse to com­plain about being picked on. The tough­est can­di­date in the field should not be able to com­plain when oth­ers dis­agree with her. This is not a coro­na­tion. Democ­rats do not like her sense of enti­tle­ment. She is not owed the nom­i­na­tion. It does not belong to her sim­ply because her name is Clin­ton. So blow the whis­tle on her when she tries to become a vic­tim. Do it with humour and a smile and it will sting even more.

Hillary comes across as cold, dis­tant and con­spir­a­cy-mind­ed, more like Richard Nixon than her sun­ny, charm­ing hus­band. Dur­ing the Clin­ton pres­i­den­cy she over­saw a dis­as­ter (the effort to sell Hillarycare) and argued hard against wel­fare reform, one of the promis­es on which he had cam­paigned. She is a hard-nosed com­peti­tor with a tough and sea­soned staff.

But her record is weak, her per­son­al­i­ty off-putting and her sup­port thin. If she wins the nom­i­na­tion it will be because her rivals – name­ly you – were weak when you con­front­ed her and could not look her in the eye when you did. She is beat­able but you have to raise your game. Iowa is your great chance for a break­through. Win it con­vinc­ing­ly and you can build on it in the con­tests that fol­low. Lose it and vic­to­ry becomes much more dif­fi­cult.


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