On Wednesday, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign made news with a significant shift in their candidate’s position on marriage equality, calling it a “constitutional right” rather than a state-by-state issue. Before the day was out, Maryland Governor and possible Democratic presidential candidate Martin O’Malley was out with a campaign-style video that clearly targeted Clinton, if not by name, then by issue (O’Malley is the guy on the left in that selfie shot):
“History celebrates profiles in courage, not profiles in convenience. The dignity of every person tells us that the right to marry is not a state right, it is a human right.”
Oh to-the snap, Governor O’Malley. That’s going to make your eventual cabinet meetings awk-ward.
It’s tough to see O’Malley, or any other Democrat, making much of a dent in Clinton at this early stage, but this episode does reveal an early red flag in the Clinton campaign apparatus. While the candidate’s arc on marriage equality has been similar to those of President Obama and other Democrats, the way that gets rolled out matters.
When the story broke on Wednesday, first reported by The Blade‘s Chris Johnson, it seemed as though maybe the campaign was just caught off guard by a persistent reporter. As it turns out, the question had been put to the campaign by BuzzFeed‘s Chris Geidner the day it officially launched, by Johnson several weeks earlier, and likely by a host of others as well. That means that on Wednesday, the Clinton press shop made the conscious decision to send this statement to reporters individually, through a spokesperson, after several weeks of pressure from reporters.
The process by which this major story was announced drew little attention elsewhere, but it was that decision to sneak this out via a spokesperson, rather than have it come from the candidate herself, that gave O’Malley an opening to grab all the ink he’s getting over it. If they had, instead, made Hillary available to one or more of these reporters, it would have been much bigger news, and that clip would be all over the news now instead of O’Malley’s.
Making that statement directly to a reporter with a background in reporting on LGBT rights would also have had the added benefit of strengthening Hillary’s relationship with that important constituency, rather than seeming like a down-low slight.
The Clinton campaign hasn’t yet responded to a request for comment, but the thinking here may have been to downplay the significance of the shift. In any case, it was a miscalculation that hearkens back to the reactive, flat-footed 2008 campaign press shop. Clinton’s campaign has been masterful at exploiting the press so far this week, but they need to get better at handling issues that aren’t necessarily in their playbook at a given moment.