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January 2008

Lanny Davis on Hillary Clinton

By Demetrios Rhompotis

Primary election eve in Manchester, New Hampshire, and things didn’t look very positive for Senator Clinton; in fact, her people were hoping to put New Hampshire behind them and now focus on Super Tuesday, February 5.

Hours before her final rally near Manchester Airport, at which President Clinton and daugher Chelsea joined the senator on stage, Lanny Davis, a close friend of the Clintons (“As close an it can get,” in the words of another friend) was having dinner at downtown Manchester’s Athena Restaurant: the unofficial headquarters of the Greek-Americans for Hillary Clinton. He was sitting with a real veteran in electoral politics, Chris Spyrou, who contrary to the general mood was confident that of the 60,000 Greeks living in the state, “95% will vote for Hillary. And I made sure it will happen!”

Lanny J. Davis, a lawyer by profession, who served as special counsel to President Bill Clinton from 1996 to 1998 (during which time he also was the spokesman for Clinton in issues regarding campaign finance investigations and other legal issues) has been a friend of Hillary’s since they both went to Law School in Yale, and an unofficial adviser to her campaign. In an interview with NEO, he blamed the calendar changes in this year’s primary season for not allowing Senator Clinton to get her message through after her disappointing third place finish in Iowa.

What’s the situation in New Hampshire?

People are overwhelmed with the media circus produced by one state in the middle of the country (Iowa) with less than 2% of the voters participating, a small, rural state. When a candidate wins and the media create a firestorm, I’m calling it a Tsunami, it overwhelms the ability of the individuals to hear the candidates and make a decision on what they hear. The noise from Iowa is like a Tsunami! Having said that, if we had the regular calendar, when we had eight days between the two primaries, what happened in this little atypical state would not have overwhelmed the people of New Hampshire. Unfortunately the Democratic Party, which has a suicide wish sometimes, allowed a rush to the front of the calendar. Five days that you have to react, aren’t enough.

But that’s true for all the candidates…

Yes, and the disadvantage for Senator Clinton versus Barack Obama is that Obama has an inspirational, emotional message that is really moving to young people and to non-active individuals, independent voters who usually do not participate. It’s a very inspirational message and he does it very, very well, but it’s based on emotion. So, to deal with a candidate who isn’t talking about his record, on what we can actually do post 9/11 to protect us, or really talk about issues like health care, education that people care about, it takes a lot of time after an emotional victory in Iowa for a candidate like Senator Clinton who’s dealing more with facts, to get her message through. If the situation were reversed and I had the emotional candidate, I’d be very happy with this little time between Iowa and New Hampshire primary.

Most people here in Manchester cite the economy as their major concern. You would expect, given President Clinton’s record, that people would be overwhelmingly supporting his wife. Why isn’t this happening?

Not yet, because of Iowa. Chris (Spyrou) gave me a very good suggestion, while on television this morning. Challenge Senator Obama, who criticized the ‘90s - he said, lets not go back into the ‘90s - to tell something about Bill Clinton’s eight years in the White House that he didn’t approve of. He took a deficit and made it into a surplus, he created the most prosperous economy Americans ever had and we were respected around the world. What does he not like? President Clinton today said that, I hear the argument that Obama represents the future, change and experience is a bad word. It’s like saying to somebody who needs surgery don’t go to a doctor, go to someone who’s never done it before!

Both Al Gore and Senator Kerry tried to distance themselves from Bill Clinton’s legacy but they lost anyway. Senator Clinton too seems very reserved in using her husband’s record to her advantage. Why?

If you listen to her, she is doing it. But she is not saying it in focused fashion and I think she’s gonna need to do that between now and February 5. Today and yesterday she spoke a great deal about what we achieved in the ‘90s and our relationship with the rest of the world. But there is some thought in the Clinton campaign that her message on prosperity and record of Bill Clinton is getting lost in the rhetoric of Barack Obama on change, which is an excited and emotional rhetoric. Yesterday and today she has been trying to focus people’s attention on who is this guy and what is his real record, as opposed to his rhetoric and compared to Hillary Clinton’s record in the White House where she was in the front line of every major decision Bill Clinton made. She was in the room.

What do you think the strategy will be from now on to confront Obama’s style?

My opinion and my advice is what Chris (Spyrou) suggested: that she invites Senators Obama and Edwards and debate them twice a week between now and February 5 on their records. Barack Obama cannot survive that conversation because there is nothing to talk about. But she can’t do that in this Tsunami of media hysteria.

Do you expect this “Tsunami” to last to February 5?

Every Tsunami wave is as big as it is. It goes as high as in getting up to the mountain and then what happens, it starts to recede. It might not withdraw by tomorrow, I’m not sure we are going to win tomorrow. Senator Clinton is ready to put her record on the table. Is Senator Obama ready to join her? February 5 will be the deciding date. New York, New Jersey and California vote then. California has about four times the number of delegates as Iowa, South Carolina, New Hampshire and Nevada together. She has 15 million dollars to spend on here’s my record versus his record.

How is Hillary’s mood after Iowa?

She is one of the greatest candidates I‘ve ever known. Because she is so smart and she is so good on the issues, she should have advanced by far as the first runner. You and I would not have had this conversation one week ago, that’s how fast things change, and we might not have had this conversation one week after. She is very up, she is very determined, she is a little frustrated, I wouldn’t say angry, she is just determined to get her facts out. So when I talked to her she said we are gonna do this thing, because I’m not gonna stop.

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