Hillary Rodham Clinton is expected to run a primary campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination focused on the four traditional early-to-vote states, forgoing the chance to parlay her dominant position into an early start in the swing states key to the general election.
Data-driven grassroots organizing in states such as Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada, along with fundraising, will be the focus when Clinton launches her presidential campaign, probably in early April, according to people familiar with the strategy. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss internal planning on the record.
The approach aims to take little for granted while capitalizing on the fact that three of the states — all but South Carolina — are also campaign battlegrounds.
"I have no doubt that she will run hard in Iowa, whether or not she has competition in the caucuses," said Bonnie Campbell, a former state attorney general and Clinton supporter. "Iowa is a competitive state in the general election, so time spent here is time well-spent."
Democrats say the former secretary of state has yet to begin building state organizations in fall campaign battlegrounds such as Florida, Ohio, Virginia and Colorado, but the national focus is on raising money. The campaign is beginning to assemble a stable of fundraisers for a race likely to exceed the more than $1 billion President Barack Obama raised for his 2012 re-election. If Clinton announces in April, her campaign would be required to release its first fundraising report in July.
"I'm sure there will be a line to host her when she says it's time," said John Morgan, a Florida Democratic fundraiser. "Money will not be a problem."
Clinton has struggled with criticism in recent weeks over her use of a private email account at the State Department and whether she skirted transparency rules. A CNN poll released Monday found that about half of the public said Clinton did something wrong by using the personal system and half said she did not. The poll found that 46 percent thought Clinton's explanation was enough while 51 percent felt she had not done enough to explain her actions.
Instead of waging a general election strategy from the start, Clinton's team will emulate many of the tactics that propelled Obama: relying heavily on data, empowering neighborhood volunteer teams to organize communities and holding events that allow for more personal connections.
Clinton's 2008 campaign suffered from a sense of inevitability about her candidacy and fell victim to Obama's ground game in Iowa, where the future president scored a decisive victory in the caucuses. While she made two visits to Iowa on behalf of state Democrats last year, party activists are looking for signs she will compete vigorously despite a lack of competition right now.
"There is a perceived Iowa problem," said Norm Sterzenbach, a former executive director of the state Democratic party. "The best way to fix that is to be here and do well," he said. "And it's an investment that would pay off in the general election."
A strategy focused on the early voting states could help her in this respect: Republican presidential hopefuls are already campaigning in them, and trying to tarnish Clinton's name on a daily basis. Her presence in those states would give her a direct chance to respond.
Taken in full, the four states also give any presidential contender a chance to connect with important segments of the electorate. Iowa and New Hampshire have many white, rural voters who have eluded Democrats in recent elections, while Nevada is rich with up-for-grabs Latino voters and South Carolina has a large segment of black voters, who have been loyal to Obama.
Much of the emphasis on field organizing comes from Clinton's expected campaign manager, Robby Mook, who helped steer Clinton's 2008 campaign to victories in Nevada, Indiana and Ohio using many of the same tactics used by Obama.
In 2013, Mook managed Democrat Terry McAuliffe's successful governor's bid in Virginia, infusing data into every major decision and allowing it to zero in on specific voters crucial to the election's outcome. In an off-year election, McAuliffe's investment let the campaign deploy more than 13,000 volunteers during the race's final days.
Mook's ties to New Hampshire run deep. A native of Vermont, he worked on Howard Dean's 2004 presidential campaign there and later managed New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen's 2008 campaign. For Clinton's widely expected race, he has recruited Shaheen's campaign team from 2014, ensuring continuity and know-how in the first primary state.
In Iowa, the campaign tapped Matt Paul, a longtime aide to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, a former Iowa governor, to serve as the state campaign's director. Michelle Kleppe, an Obama campaign organizer who overlapped with Mook as field director for Virginia Democrats' coordinated campaign in 2013, will run the field program in Iowa, officials said.
Campaign teams in South Carolina and Nevada are still being assembled but Clinton's advisers recently recruited Emmy Ruiz, who led Latino outreach for her 2008 campaign in Nevada, to run the state this time. Mook and his deputy, Marlon Marshall, served in top jobs in Clinton's Nevada campaign in 2008.
Clinton's supporters say the personal connections could make a difference this time. Colin Van Ostern, an elected member of New Hampshire's executive council, said he's reminded of Clinton's presence every time he takes his young children to their favorite Concord ice cream shop, where Clinton's picture hangs on the wall. Her one on one campaigning, with a focus on issues important to New Hampshire voters, "is going to take her far," he said.
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