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Clinton, sliding, orders a change

Times Staff Writer

Coming off a downbeat weekend marked by a series of defeats, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton shook up her staff Sunday, replacing her campaign manager with a trusted senior aide from the Clinton White House years in hopes of reinvigorating her candidacy.

The Clinton campaign announced that Patti Solis Doyle was being replaced as campaign manager even before the final Maine numbers confirmed that she had lost the Democratic caucuses to Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois. With 99% of the precincts reporting, Obama had 59%, Clinton 40%.

With his win in Maine, Obama enjoyed a clean sweep over the weekend, after finishing first on Saturday in the Washington state and Nebraska caucuses and in the Louisiana primary. That gives Obama fresh momentum as the two candidates pivot to Tuesday’s so-called Potomac primaries, in Virginia, Maryland and Washington. A Clinton campaign official said privately Sunday that the campaign expects to lose all three contests.

Solis Doyle’s successor will be Maggie Williams, who served as chief of staff to then-First Lady Clinton.

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An overhaul of Clinton’s senior staff had been rumored for months as her national lead shrank and she struggled to keep pace with Obama’s prodigious fundraising.

Clinton has raised about $130 million, but she was recently compelled to loan her campaign $5 million out of her personal funds. (The campaign has since paid it back.) Privately, some donors have said the campaign was slow to use the Internet to raise money, relying too heavily on the Clintons’ old fundraising network.

With the nomination up for grabs and no quick end in sight, campaign supporters, donors and the staff itself wanted new energy and perhaps a different approach, and Clinton made the change.

“Every campaign, at a certain point, needs an injection of new blood, new leadership,” said Lanny Davis, a campaign supporter and former Clinton White House special counsel.

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In a statement, Clinton said: “Patti Solis Doyle has done an extraordinary job in getting us to this point -- within reach of the nomination -- and I am enormously grateful for her friendship and her outstanding work. I am lucky to have Maggie on board and I know she will lead our campaign with great skill toward the nomination.”

Power in the Clinton camp is divided among a handful of top aides: Terry McAuliffe and Jonathan Mantz head fundraising; Mandy Grunwald handles campaign advertising; Howard Wolfson runs communications; Mark Penn is responsible for polling and strategy; and Harold Ickes oversees political matters. Bill Clinton acts as chief surrogate with the standing to weigh in whenever he chooses.

As campaign manager, Solis Doyle was atop the pyramid, responsible for directing the staff, making final decisions on budgets and hiring, and consulting with the candidate. In “Hillaryland” -- the nickname for Clinton’s staff that dates to her White House years -- Solis Doyle, 42, could boast of a rapport with the candidate that few matched. The two teamed up in 1991 when Bill Clinton first ran for president. She later became Hillary Clinton’s scheduler in the White House.

Solis Doyle had not managed a presidential campaign before, and initially there was trepidation in the Clinton camp when she was elevated to that role. After Clinton finished third in the Iowa caucuses Jan. 3, speculation sprouted that the New York senator would overhaul her senior staff. But that talk was quashed when Clinton rebounded five days later, winning the New Hampshire primary and blunting Obama’s momentum.

Still, new campaign aides began arriving on the scene. One was Williams, who initially played a low-key role.

One Clinton campaign aide, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Solis Doyle’s preference had been to leave after the New Hampshire election.

“It has been a much longer and more arduous campaign than she had expected, and she felt that it was time for new leadership and fresh ideas,” said the aide, adding that Williams would bring a more “inclusive” management style than Solis Doyle, who preferred a more “top-down” approach.

In her new role, Solis Doyle will be an advisor to Clinton, accompanying the candidate on the trail from time to time.

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Some Democratic strategists questioned the wisdom of downgrading Solis Doyle when so many had a hand in crafting Clinton’s message.

“It always makes me uncomfortable when somebody is moved aside like this in the middle of a troubled campaign period, because I really never think it’s about one person,” said Bill Carrick, who has advised Democratic candidates and is unaligned in the 2008 race. “When a campaign has problems, it’s probably much more systemic than it is caused by any individual.”

Some of Clinton’s supporters have been unnerved as they watch her fortunes take a turn for the worse. They’ve expressed discomfort over what they see as a pattern of reinvention: First Clinton was tough and seasoned, then she tried out a softer persona. She announced in Iowa she would start attacking Obama; then she drew back.

After repeatedly touting her experience, she repackaged herself as the candidate best able to bring about change. Don Fowler, a Clinton backer and former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said the campaign should have moved more quickly to show Clinton’s warmer side. “That should have been a concern from the beginning, and I don’t think it was,” Fowler said.

Others say the campaign has not been creative in its fundraising. Though $10 million has been raised since Feb. 1 through a burst of online donations, the campaign’s overall Internet fundraising has lagged, a top Clinton fundraiser said Sunday.

That is a problem because many of the reliable Clinton donors have already given the maximum under federal law, he said. Donations from the Internet tend to come from a larger number of donors, many of them new, giving smaller amounts -- which means they can be asked again to donate.

Obama “raised a whole lot more money in January than we did through a nontraditional source: the Internet,” the fundraiser said. “A number of us are not entirely pleased with the efforts on the Internet. Quite frankly, that’s where it [the money] is going to have to come from.”

Buoyed by his victories, Obama on Sunday sounded every bit the Democratic front-runner. He and Clinton have netted about the same number of delegates. If he gets more victories Tuesday, Obama could potentially eke out a lead in the delegate hunt, something that seemed unthinkable a few months back, when he was trailing far behind Clinton in national polls.

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Campaigning in Alexandria, Va., Obama painted Clinton as a figure from the past while laying out a governing strategy should he win the White House.

He said it was difficult for Clinton “to break out of the politics of the past 15 years.” He pledged to form a “working majority” with independents and Republicans to win the White House and break partisan gridlock in Washington.

Clinton, campaigning in Manassas, Va., did not acknowledge the recent spate of election losses. She said that if elected she, like Harry S. Truman, could handle the pressures that the next occupant of the Oval Office would inherit.

“I had a historian tell me the other day that it’s probably not been since Harry Truman that we had a president who inherits two wars, an economy in trouble, millions of people losing their healthcare, millions of families on the brink of losing their homes,” she said.

Calling the presidency “the hardest job in the world,” Clinton says she is best suited to confront Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the presumptive GOP nominee, because of her experience in foreign policy. “Republicans will do everything in their power to make this election about national security and homeland security,” she said.

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peter.nicholas@latimes.com

Times staff writers Stuart Silverstein in Los Angeles and Johanna Neuman in Washington contributed to this report.


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