Most Effective Message Point of the Primaries: Clinton’s “35 Years”

Sometimes, after the dust settles on a project, PR people look around and think, “Wow. I thought we were going to be hit a lot harder on [INSERT PERCEIVED WEAKNESS] than we were. But it really didn’t come up much. Cool.”

When the tell-all books get written about the Clinton campaign (and I’m already looking forward to them), I’m guessing we’ll hear at least a few Clinton strategists say they expected to get more heat on the relentlessly hammered “35 years of experience” point, but it never came.

Back in January, my friend Benidt observed here that

“Barack Obama — and the media — have given Hillary Clinton a pass on the issue of experience. Hillary talks about being ready on day one to be president — especially important in a time of terrorism when a new president will be tested, she says. Clinton is a second-term senator. Obama is a first-term senator. Yet Obama is the one about whom it’s always asked, “Does he have enough experience to be president?” As if Hillary, ipso facto, does have.”

Spot on. But weeks later, late in the primary game, and prompted perhaps by the Clintons pushing the envelope on the experience message with the 3 A.M. ad,  the Clinton experience inquiry is starting. In a trickle.

Witness yesterday’s Time story, the beginning of what the magazine calls “a series that will take a closer look at the claims candidates make.” They’re starting with Clinton, analyzing her claims of provision of health care to six million kids, helping to bring peace to Northern Ireland, and brokering border deals to help Kosovo refugees. My read of Time’s analysis has her batting about .250 on claim vs. reality, but you can make that judgement yourself.

Pretty late in the game now for that to matter much, though. It may not be enough to get her to win the thing, but “35 Years” did its job in establishing Clinton’s experience as a general given. Whether that’s down to skillful messaging, uninspired reporting, or blunders from the opposition (or luck), credit the Clinton campaign with one of the most successful bits of messaging from anyone’s campaign so far. They’ve been able to call out Obama on experience while largely avoiding serious scrutiny themselves. Whether or not the campaign could articulate Clinton’s experience skillfully, they haven’t really had to. It’s worked splendidly.

That’s just for the primary, mind you. The general election would be another story.

— Hornseth invoice software kind

3 thoughts on “Most Effective Message Point of the Primaries: Clinton’s “35 Years”

  1. Every time I hear the Clinton campaign suggest that voters should choose a president based on experience, I envision Senator McCain putting his hand on the bible next January.

  2. Experience can only go so far but I believe that America is a great country. I am excited about the current elections because there are more people getting involved. My belief is that Barack embodies what this country needs for it’s next President. I think it is genius how he has weighed his judgment against Hillary’s experience. Thanks for your blog post. Check out my site for Obama videos, if you like what you see pass them on.

  3. jloveland says:

    Good stuff Hornseth.

    Senator Clinton has been able to sell her foreign policy experience because she has more than Obama, not because she has a lot. Everything is relative. If she were running against Bill Richardson or, say, John McCain, she couldn’t do a red phone ad.

    Obama gains nothing when he argues “she doesn’t really have much experience.” Firstl, she has more than him, so that’s a debate he never wins. Second, it further frames the debate around experience and gives credence to a false premise.

    To me, Obama would gain more if he said something like, “These same-old, same old personal attacks hurt our country because they dumb down the debate and confuse the issue. Look, let’s be real for a minute here. John McCain, George Bush, Dick Cheyney and Don Rumsfeld…those guys all have more experience in this area than both Senator Clinton and I. Would any of them be better Presidents than Senator Clinton or I? Of course not! The “best president = most experience” premise is patently ridulous. We know the major judgement flaws of Bush, Rumsfeld, McCain and Cheyney outweigh their lengthy experience. So, let’s get off of these personal attacks. Let’s focus on the real issues this nation face. Who had the judgement to have the right Iraq policy in 2002, and who has the right judgement for similar decisions. That is a thousand times more important than resume girth.”

    I say Obama should leave Hillary’s completely name out of it. Reasons: a) attacking a fellow Democrat is wrong for the overall cause; b) attacking a fellow Democrat creates reputational blow-back in Democratic primaries; c) Obama’s central reputational asset is a fresh, optimistic approach, and tit-for-tat attacks devalues his most valuable reputational asset; and d) voters are plenty smart enough to connect those dots by themselves…you don’t need to beat them over the head with it.

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