THE BLOG
02/18/2008 10:17 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Memo That Could Have Made Hillary President

In the wake of Patti Solis Doyle's resignation as Hillary Clinton's campaign manager, there was little surprise that, soon after her departure, Mike Henry would follow. As Doyle's deputy, Henry's ouster was expected, a move required to make room for lieutenants loyal to Maggie Williams.

But because his departure was expected, it passed with little specific media attention, grouped instead with the broader narrative of a Clinton campaign on the ropes, and a long overdue shake-up in the works. What is most noteworthy about Henry is not that he was forced out of the campaign at the outset of its demise; rather, it is that only nine months ago, he penned a memo that could have made Clinton president.

In May of 2007, the press got their hands on a leaked strategy memo from the Clinton campaign, written by Deputy Campaign Manager Mike Henry, advocating that Clinton forego Iowa. It reasoned that Iowa was the weakest of the early states for Clinton, that a loss there could be irreparable, and that, given her wide margins nationally and in other early states, whatever backlash she would face by bypassing the state could easily be weathered.

The leaked memo was a major story in May, the first bump in a narrative of inevitability that had adorned the campaign. Senior advisers quickly asserted that the memo had never been taken seriously, while Senator Clinton was dispatched to Iowa to prove her commitment to the state. Helping to craft a media narrative of inevitability may have been wise politics; believing it, however, was a fatal mistake. Mark Penn and Clinton's other senior advisers continued to run a re-election campaign of incumbency. Instead of heeding the advice of her deputy, Clinton competed aggressively in Iowa, ultimately placing a dismal third, and spending the bulk of her war chest.

She may have survived in New Hampshire, but the closeness of that race and those to follow forever changed not just the narrative of the race, but the perception of Obama in the voters' eyes. A triumphant victory in South Carolina, on the heels of Clinton-injected racial tension, led Obama to win more states and more delegates than Clinton on Super Tuesday, and has since led to eight 20+ point victories in a row. Today, Obama sits with a delegate lead so high that Hillary's only path to the nomination is through the dirtiest of tricks: changing the rules mid-cycle to seat the Florida and Michigan delegations, or having the super delegates overturn the will of the people in a backroom deal that would make John Quincy Adams and Rutherford B. Hayes proud. The nomination fight is over, even if Clinton doesn't know it yet. But it didn't have to end this way.

Had Clinton taken the advice of Mike Henry in May of 2007, she would be the presumptive Democratic nominee today, while Barack Obama would be weighing the merits of a gubanatorial race in Illinois. She would have taken a hit, to be sure, probably suffering a series of negative news cycles in the early part of the summer. Her inevitability may have been questioned by some, but her dramatic leads in national polls and early state contests would have continued to propel the same basic narrative. She could have deployed surrogates to make the same argument against caucuses that she is being forced to make today, on the other side of nine caucus losses. "Caucuses are undemocratic, " she could have said, "They disenfranchise the working class and take away the secret ballot. This is not a way to elect a president of this great nation." Over and over, her surrogates would have hammered the point until, by mid-June, the media would have moved on, leaving Iowa with less meaning and certainly less value.

Barack Obama would have won Iowa, but the race would not have been billed as competitive, never providing him the opportunity to proclaim, "They said this day would never come." Five days later Hillary would have found victory in New Hampshire, but likely with a significantly larger margin, the bump from Iowa being non-existent for Obama. And with a significant win in New Hampshire and Nevada, she would have marched into South Carolina with the kind of support among African Americans she enjoyed throughout most of 2007. She would have swept the early contests where she competed and used that momentum to end the Obama campaign on February 5th. Mike Henry would have been cheered as a hero, the one man with the foresight to correct course on a campaign where few saw the icebergs in the distance.

Instead, Mike Henry sits home today, fired from a national campaign that has collapsed in on itself, knowing full well that had she taken his advice, Hillary Clinton could very well have been president.

**For more from Dylan Loewe, visit Loewe Political Report.