|Hillary Rodham Clinton
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
[Politico] Inside a cramped third-floor office of Hillary Clinton’s once-bustling presidential campaign headquarters in the Ballston neighborhood of Arlington, Va., Kris Balderston and Adrienne Elrod put the finishing touches on a political hit list. It was late June 2008, and Hillary had dropped her bid for the presidency earlier that month. The war room, where her brain trust had devolved into profanity-laced shouting matches, was empty. The data crunchers were gone. The political director had drifted out. A handful of Hillary’s aides had already hooked up with Sen. Barack Obama’s campaign in Chicago.
Balderston’s salt-and-pepper beard gave him the look of a college English professor who didn’t need to shave for his job. Then in his early fifties, he had been with Bill and Hillary Clinton since their White House days, serving as a deputy assistant to the president and later as Hillary’s legislative director and deputy chief of staff in her New York Senate office. The official government titles obscured Balderston’s true value: He was an elite political operator and one of Hillary’s favorite suppliers of gossip. After more than a dozen years spent working for the Clintons, he knew how to keep score in a political race.
Elrod, a toned 31-year-old blonde with a raspy Ozark drawl, had an even longer history with the Clintons that went back to her childhood in Siloam Springs, a town of 15,000 people in northwestern Arkansas. She had known Bill Clinton since at least the age of five. Her father, John Elrod, a prominent lawyer in Fayetteville, first befriended the future president at Arkansas Boys State, an annual civics camp for high school juniors, when they were teenagers. Like Bill Clinton, Adrienne Elrod had a twinkle in her blue eyes and a broad smile that conveyed warmth instantaneously. She had first found work in the Clinton White House after a 1996 internship there, then became a Democratic Party political operative and later held senior posts on Capitol Hill. She joined the Hillary Clinton for President outfit as a communications aide and then shifted into Balderston’s delegate-courting congressional-relations office in March. Trusted because of her deep ties to the Clinton network, Elrod helped Balderston finalize the list.
For months they had meticulously updated a wall-size dry-erase board with color-coded symbols, letters and arrows to track which lawmakers were leaning toward endorsing Hillary and which were headed in Obama’s direction. For example, the letters “LO” indicated that a lawmaker was “leaning Obama,” while “BD” in blue denoted that he or she was a member of the centrist Blue Dog Coalition on Capitol Hill.
As one of the last orders of business for a losing campaign, they recorded in a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet the names and deeds of members of Congress. They carefully noted who had endorsed Hillary, who had backed Obama, and who had stayed on the sidelines—standard operating procedure for any high-end political organization. But the data went into much more nuanced detail. “We wanted to have a record of who endorsed us and who didn’t,” a member of Hillary’s campaign team said, “and of those who endorsed us, who went the extra mile and who was just kind of there. And of those who didn’t endorse us, those who understandably didn’t endorse us because they are [Congressional Black Caucus] members or Illinois members. And then, of course, those who endorsed him but really should have been with her … that burned her.”
For Hillary, whose loss was of course not the end of her political career, the spreadsheet was a necessity of modern political warfare, an improvement on what old-school politicians called a “favor file.” It meant that when asks rolled in, she and Bill would have at their fingertips all the information needed to make a quick decision—including extenuating, mitigating and amplifying factors—so that friends could be rewarded and enemies punished.
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