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Joe Cutbirth Headshot

Memo to Hillary: How to Be the Comeback Kid

Posted: Updated:

To: Hillary Clinton
Fr: An Uncommitted Democrat
RE: What to say tonight when you lose New Hampshire

Anyone who said you have to win New Hampshire tonight is an amateur. These have been tough losses, and South Carolina isn't looking good, but your campaign can still recover. It's just a matter of math.

Your advisers made a big mistake after you finished third in Iowa to even frame you as competitive in New Hampshire (or any of these early small states). As likeable as you can be in person, there isn't enough time now for you to beat Obama in a retail war of political personalities in small states.

His campaign and the upcoming primary schedule are starting to resemble a basketball game with one hot team on a fast break. It looks like it is getting out of hand, but there is time to regroup. You have to change strategy, but you also have to call time out. You have to stop the momentum.

Your Waterloo isn't New Hampshire. Or South Carolina. Or Nevada. It's California.

California is where you can change the momentum of this campaign. On Super Tuesday, you'll win New York, and he'll win Illinois. California is up for grabs. It's the richest state in terms of delegates, and it's the cornerstone of any viable Democrat's general election strategy.

So, tonight, when you lose New Hampshire, call time out. Launch the California campaign. You can steal the spotlight from Obama and effectively negate the impact of further losses in South Carolina and Nevada if you publicly change strategy. (You'll get the coverage, because the press will eat that up.)

But the announcement has to be bold. So, here is my suggestion. Tell voters four specific things you will change in America during the first 100 days of your presidency. Then challenge Obama to do the same.

You aren't going to regain the momentum by waiting for him to make some patronizing gaffe like saying, "You're likable enough Hillary." You won't regain the momentum because Drudge and the Huffington Post report your eyes got misty. You won't regain the momentum because the former president takes a call from you in the middle of a speech and ends the conversation with "I love you."

The momentum is going to change when you take the offensive and change your message. The issues don't have to change, just the frame.

First and foremost STOP TALKING ABOUT THE PAST 35 YEARS, because nobody believes there has been a lot of change during that time. The past 35 years have been Reagan, Bush, Clinton and Bush. Tell yourself that your whole campaign depends on you never ever mentioning the number 35 again.

Instead, make your magic numbers 4 and 100. It's even fine to come out and say that.

Pick four specific things you are going to do for Americans during your first 100 days if they elect you, and hammer those promises home on television and in every personal appearance you make. Don't talk about anything else.

I don't know what they are. I don't have the research. But you know that people are starting to prepare their income tax returns. So, you might consider piggybacking on that.

Here are some ideas:
  • Make 100 percent of health care expenses deductible for the next three years or until Congress passed health care reform that you could sign.
  • Seal the interest rates on federally insured college loans at 3 percent for the next six years.
  • Direct Gen. Petraeus to present you with a specific plan that would begin the immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq, and that you would tell Americans as much as you can about that plan without jeopardizing the safety of any of our armed forces.
  • Then, challenge Obama to tell Americans his four things. Get him off the platitudes and vague notion of this "change" that he is going implement by inviting everyone to come together. Make him offer four concrete things he will do in his first 100 days.

Then, you two square off in debates and with television ads on what is realistic and on who is promising something he/she can't deliver. We want to hear that, and you have a chance at winning that dialogue. That is where your 35 years in government is your strength. He is going to make a mistake, because you do know the process better.

But you need to stop talking about the past and start talking about the future. Remember the math. Go to California, ditch the number 35 and build your strategy around the numbers 4 and 100.

And tell us that tonight when you lose in New Hampshire. That is how you will turn this campaign around. That is what the country wants to hear.