Deputy campaign manager wrote a memo this week urging the Democratic front-runner to bypass next year's Iowa caucuses to focus time and money on New Hampshire, South Carolina and several large states hosting primaries next Feb. 5. The memo from deputy campaign manager Mike Henry emerged days after a Des Moines Sunday Register poll of likely caucus goers showed Clinton trailing rivals John Edwards
and Barack Obama in Iowa, which is to hold the first voting contests Jan. 14, 2008.
"I believe we need a new approach to winning the Democratic nomination," Henry wrote. "This approach involves shifting the focus away from Iowa and running a campaign that is more focused on other early primary states and winning this new national primary."
All the major presidential campaigns have been struggling to adapt to next year's vastly accelerated campaign calendar, which such states as California and New York holding primaries within weeks of traditional early powerhouses Iowa and New Hampshire. In his memo, Henry argued that winning Iowa would require a huge cash investment that could cripple the campaign as it moved into the big states.
Even so, there was no indication Wednesday that Henry's advice would be heeded. Campaign spokesman Howard Wolfson said the candidate and her top advisers were committed to campaigning in Iowa and Henry's views were not shared by others in the campaign.
"These are Mike's thoughts, the memo was unsolicited, and it does not reflect in any way Senator Clinton's thinking," Wolfson said.
Indeed, Clinton has a full schedule of events in western Iowa beginning this Friday and is scheduled to campaign in the state the following two weekends as well.
Clinton has won the endorsement of former Gov. Tom Vilsack and his wife, Christie, who accompany her on virtually all of her campaign stops in the state. Vilsack sought the Democratic presidential nomination but dropped out earlier this year when he found it difficult to raise money. He remains popular with Iowa Democrats.
Privately, Clinton advisers, including Vilsack, have acknowledged that she is probably not winning in Iowa right now. Edwards, who fell just short of winning the state's caucuses in 2004, has campaigned extensively there this time and has held onto much of his support.
In an interview Wednesday, Vilsack said Clinton's campaign was just getting started in Iowa and he was confident she would build support.
"Every campaign has to focus on the people who want to be courted, who are not yet committed. People in Iowa have not yet had a chance to meet Senator Clinton," Vilsack said. "She converts people. She's doing a good job and I like where we are today."
Clinton's Iowa campaign is headed by veteran strategist JoDee Winterhoff and is opening ten offices throughout the state.
"We are absolutely, unequivocally committed to Iowa and we are adding staff daily," Winterhoff said, estimating the number of people working on the campaign there to be "well north of 50."
Ever since Jimmy Carter emerged from obscurity to win the Iowa caucuses in 1976, the state and its relatively small number of caucus goers have wielded outsized influence over both parties' presidential contests. Candidates who have dared skip the caucuses to focus efforts elsewhere have generally done so at their peril.
Clinton's husband did not compete in Iowa during his first election in 1992, primarily because one of his Democratic rivals, Sen. Tom Harkin was from the state.
Kerry John the eventual 2004 Democratic nominee, revived a seemingly moribund campaign that year on the strength of winning the Iowa caucuses.
Harold Ickes, a top Clinton strategist, said the campaign had been weighing various options for dealing with the rush of nomination contests in early 2008, including bypassing Iowa.
"Every campaign games out different scenarios and this is one scenario," he said. "The campaign is moving in Iowa, is going to stay in Iowa, and Mrs. Clinton is very dedicated to winning the state."
For her part, Clinton dismissed the recent Iowa polling as too early in the campaign to mean much.
"I feel very good about where we are in the campaign in all the states where we're competing, and certainly in the national poll," Clinton told The Associated Press. "But it's a long process and it started earlier and it's more intense than probably before. You have to take it day by day and do the best you can."
Henry did not return a telephone message left at his office. He is the former campaign manager of Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, credited with helping the Democrat win exurban counties that had been leaning Republican in that state.