Obama Has Better Management Skills than Clinton

Note: I updated this post with new statistics on 2/15.  I also added some interesting information about the management of the Obama and Clinton campaigns from The New York Times and The Atlantic

In an earlier post I argued that the President of the United States should not be viewed as the “CEO of the Country” or “CEO of the U.S. Government” since the U.S. Government is a very different type of organization from a small business or large corporation.  However, I did agree that a good President must have leadership and management skills similar to those of an effective CEO.  This raises the following question: Who has demonstrated better management skills? Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama?

As far as I’ve been able to determine, both of them have only had limited experience managing large organizations in their careers.  In fact, the largest organizations that they have managed are actually their own presidential campaigns.  I’ll talk more about that later and suggest that any evaluation of their management skills must be primarily based on the effectiveness of their respective campaigns.

What organizations has Hillary Clinton managed or lead?  According to Hillary’s campaign website, Hillary ran a legal aid clinic for the poor when she first moved to Arkansas in 1975, but it is safe to assume that this was a small operation like most such clinics. Her website also indicates that she later organized a group called “Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families” which still exists; but its website indicates that it too is a small organization having a staff of 10 professionals along with some graduate students and pediatric interns.  In 1987, while Bill Clinton was Governor of Arkansas, Hillary became the first chair of the American Bar Association’s Commission on Women in the Profession which consisted of 12 lawyers focused on securing the full participation of women in the legal profession and the justice system. As First Lady, she had a staff but I could not determine how large it was.  In any case, the more important organization she managed while First Lady was the President’s Task Force on National Health Care Reform in which she oversaw committees composed of medical and insurance professionals, lawmakers, and consumer rights advocates.  As everyone knows, that endeavor was not successful and Hillary has admitted that she made some mistakes. That being said, trying to reform America’s healthcare system is a very tough nut to crack and I don’t think it would be fair to conclude that Hillary was a bad manager because the Clintons’ healthcare reform initiative failed. (While researching this, I found a very interesting article called The Hillarycare Mythology by Paul Starr who was a White House senior health policy advisor at the time; his article points out that Bill Clinton never really gave up control of the healthcare policy-making process and that a small team of advisors lead by Ira Magaziner and Bill Clinton himself were the ones who really formulated the Clinton healthcare plan outside of the President’s Task Force.)  Like every other Senator, Hillary also manages a small staff of aides. Note that I have not described every aspect of Hillary Clinton’s resume because my goal here was to describe all relevant jobs or positions that involved management skills.

Now let’s turn to Barack Obama.  After graduating from college in 1983, Barack had low-level jobs at Business International Corporation and NYPIRG and then worked as a community organizer in Chicago.  He spent 1988 – 1991 at Harvard Law School where he was editor of the Harvard Law Review. He then joined the law firm of Miner, Barnhill & Galland in Chicago where he practiced as a civil rights lawyer.  He also taught at the University of Chicago Law School.  Ironically, he also helped organize voter registration drives for Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign.  He was elected to the Illinois State Senate in 1996 and to the U.S. Senate in 2004.  It is safe to say that he had not managed any large organizations in his career prior to running for President.

Since neither Hillary nor Barack has ever previously managed large organizations (with the possible exception for Hillary of the President’s Taskforce on National Health Care Reform),  I believe that any evaluation of their management skills can only be based on the effectiveness of their respective presidential campaigns.  Now, some readers might object that an evaluation of their campaigns is ultimately more useful for evaluating the management abilities of their campaign managers rather than the candidates themselves. But even if that were true, the candidates ultimately deserve credit (or blame) for having picked good (or bad) campaign managers.  After all, anybody elected President will only be effective if he or she selects excellent people to staff the White House and the various federal departments and agencies. 

So, which campaign has been more successful so far? I think it is fair to say that Barack’s campaign has been more successful and better run, especially when considering that Hillary had many advantages early on such as higher name recognition, more establishment support, access to a large network of wealthy donors, and the clear perception that she would be most likely to win the Democratic nomination.  Barack clearly had a higher hill to climb to get as far as he has since he first had to emerge from the pack of 7 other Clinton challengers.  As of 2/15, Barack had more delegates than Hillary even counting superdelegates.  For instance the Associated Press allocated 1,275 delegates to Barack and 1,220 to Hillary.  CNN allocated 1,259 delegates to Barack and 1,212 to Hillary.  I would argue that Barack’s campaign had to be better managed in order to reach the current lead it enjoys.  Considering that the superdelegates can change their minds between now and the Democratic Convention in August, it is probably fairer in any case to measure the success of the campaigns by the number of pledged delegates that they have won. As of 2/15, CNN showed Barack with 1,102 pledged delegates and Clinton with 978; so, his campaign has done better than hers measured by that yardstick.

Another way to measure the effectiveness of the campaigns is to count how many states each has won. Barack has won 21 while Hillary has won 11 (as of 2/15).   I’m not counting Michigan and Florida which Hillary won but where the candidates did not campaign and where no delegates were awarded.  Even if one did count Michigan and Florida, Barack would still have a 21-to-13 lead in states won. The Clinton campaign has accounted for this by arguing that caucuses put her at a disadvantage since her supporters supposedly have a harder time getting away from work or their children in order to attend them. Frankly, that sounds like poor loser talk to me.  In any case, the Clinton campaign could have targeted any particular group of voters and formulated a message designed to win their enthusiastic support and turnout at the caucuses. So, even if it is true that some voters find it hard to attend caucuses, one can still argue that Hillary’s campaign has been less effective in the caucus states and therefore in the competition to win the most states.

In fact, an article in The New York Times on 2/14 pointed out that the Obama campaign opened offices in states like Idaho, North Dakota, and Utah months before the Clinton campaign did.  In the article, the chairman of the Maine Democratic Party said “A lot of the credit for what happened here goes to the Obama campaign, a grass-roots campaign, that was very well organized, with precinct captains and precinct leaders getting people out.”  The article indicated that the Obama campaign also leveraged the internet better.  One political scientist signed up on both campaign websites and indicated she got much more e-mail and information from the Obama campaign.

Another useful way to measure the campaigns would by total numbers of votes received (although votes ultimately don’t matter as much as delegates).  This is not really possible in a way that would count all states since numbers of votes are not reported from most or all states that have caucuses rather than primaries.  But it is possible to make estimates based on voter turnout for those states. NBC News estimated on 2/13 that Barack was leading Hillary in the popular vote count, giving him 9,373,334 votes and her 8,674,779, not counting Michigan and Florida.  Even when NBC did count Michigan and Florida, Barack still beat Hillary 9,942,375 to 9,860,138.  Keep in mind that Barack wasn’t even on the Michigan ballot. So, he has beaten her by this measure too.

Another criteria by which we can measure the two campaigns are their finances.  As I reported in a prior post, Hillary’s campaign has clearly been experiencing some financial difficulties recently. She had to lend her campaign $5 Million of her own money in order to compete effectively against Barack in the Super Tuesday contests after Barack raised $32 Million in January while she only raised $13.5 Million.  Additionally, some of her senior staff were working without pay earlier this month.  Furthermore, it appears that Hillary was not well informed about the financial state of her campaign.  Marc Ambinder wrote the following in an article for The Atlantic: “Clinton herself was not informed that the campaign was in dire financial straits until after Iowa, one adviser said.  For two days, Bill Clinton camped out in the campaign’s Ballston, VA headquarters and poured through the numbers with Williams and other aides.  Aides and advisers say that Clinton’s decision to lend herself money was not made by consulting members of the senior staff and was relayed to them after-the-fact.” What emerges is a picture in which Hillary and her staff were not communicating openly about the campaign’s finances.

One last fact that leads me to conclude that Barack’s campaign is better run than Hillary’s is the fact that Hillary replaced her campaign manager, Patti Solis Doyle, with her former chief of staff, Maggie Williams, after Obama’s victories this past weekend.  While her campaign spun this as a personal decision of Doyle to resign, one insider told CNN that “there was a lot of dissatisfaction with the ground operation. There was nobody in charge.”  Maybe that is the real reason the Clinton campaign has not done better in the states with caucuses.  Joshua Green in an article for The Atlantic wrote “As much as Clinton touts her own executive experience and judgment, she made Solis Doyle her campaign manager because of Solis Doyle’s loyalty, rather than her skill, despite a trail of available evidence suggesting she was unsuited for the role.” He added that many people advised Hillary to oust Solis Doyle, but she rejected their advice.  He points out that Hillary’s emphasis on loyalty rather than competence actually makes her quite similar to George Bush as far as management style is concerned.  Does anyone really want 4-8 more years of cronyism in the executive branch?

Of course, the ultimate measure of the success of the Clinton and Obama campaigns will be decided based upon whoever wins the nomination at the Democratic Convention in August.  But, for now, it is crystal clear that Barack has run a better campaign than Hillary.  Since their campaigns are the largest organizations that they have ever managed, I conclude that Barack is a more effective manager than Hillary, either directly through the decisions he has been making or through the people he has picked to lead his organization.  This suggests he might ultimately bring better management skills to the White House if he is elected President.

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7 Responses to “Obama Has Better Management Skills than Clinton”

  1. dee Says:

    Excellent point.

  2. Ruth Says:

    yesterday I read an article that indicated Mrs. Clinton did not realize her campaign was out of money – if true I think that can lend itself to your theory.

  3. Susan Says:

    Barack Obama has set the agenda for this election from Day One, articulating with a consistent and authentic voice a vision of hope, of inclusiveness and of healing while others follow his lead attempting to get in front of the parade he started. He set the tone and continues to challenge the way our traditional, divisive elections are conducted and he appeals to us as citizens not as interest groups. His behavior throughout the election process has modeled the positive, forward looking, and genuine outlook required of leaders. This is not “fairy tale” politics; rather it is evidence of the authentic leadership we can expect once he is in the White House.

  4. rberlind Says:

    Right, Ruth. I read that too. It suggests that she was not well-informed about the state of her own campaign’s finances, which could indicate a lack of focus and failure to adequately supervise her own staff. On the other side, others might argue that delegation of responsibility is a good management skill and that she was avoiding the mistake of micro-managing every aspect of her campaign.

  5. rberlind Says:

    I agree with most of what Susan said, but I do think John Edwards deserves some credit for having been first to propose a comprehensive healthcare plan and a stimulus package. I also think Bill Richardson was ahead of other candidates in taking climate change very seriously and proposing steep cuts in our CO2 emissions.

  6. BigDave Says:

    I also read the article that not only indicated that Hillary did not know the campaign was running out of money, but that her campaign manager did not know that Hillary was loaning money to the campaign. She says she is ready to be Commander-In-Chief, yet this is the sort of communication problem that leads to friendly fire accidents.

  7. rberlind Says:

    See the New York Times article from March 10, 2008 called “Sniping by Aides Hurt Clinton’s Image as Manager”

    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/10/us/politics/10clinton.html?ref=politics

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