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Commentary: For Clinton to win, she should focus on economy

  • Story Highlights
  • Roland S. Martin: Clinton must streamline her message
  • Clinton should let her inner policy wonk come out, Martin says
  • March 4 primaries in Texas, Ohio might decide Democratic battle
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By Roland S. Martin
CNN Contributor
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Editor's note: To read Roland Martin's take on what Sen. Barack Obama needs to do to win, click here.

(CNN) -- Eleven days. That's how many days Sen. Hillary Clinton has left to either extend this Democratic presidential campaign and fight for the nomination or see her longtime ambition disappear, possibly forever.

Her husband has already made it clear that the junior senator from New York must beat the junior senator from Illinois in Texas and Ohio, or this campaign is over.

That's why Clinton should ignore the faulty advice of chief strategist Mark Penn, tell communications director Howard Wolfson to stop peddling the plagiarism charges against Sen. Barack Obama and go full-throttle on the economy.

You got it. Return to the 1992 mantra of James Carville and Paul Begala: It's the economy, stupid.

There has been one constant about Obama's presidential campaign. Ask anyone, and it has boiled down to the best bumper sticker you can find: Change.

Simple. Direct. To the point.

Clinton? She has had more messages than wardrobe changes at a Beyoncé concert. "Ready Day One." "I have 35 years of experience." "Solutions, not speeches." Part of the reason America has no clue about the real Hillary Clinton is because we keep getting so many versions.

In order for Clinton to right this ship, she should make this campaign about one issue, and that is the state of the American economy.

Texas ranks third behind California and Florida when it comes to home foreclosures. People are flat-out going crazy because their interest rates are skyrocketing due to subprime loans. During Thursday night's debate, she hit on that subject hard. But guess what will get all the attention? Her being booed for the Xerox comment about Obama's speeches. Was it cute? Sure, even if it ticked off the folks in the room. But a good line isn't reason enough to make an undecided voter to choose her over Obama. It's just a good line that was probably fed to her by one of her highly paid, and clearly ineffective, campaign operatives.

Clinton and Obama spent more time Thursday night on Cuba rather than expound on the skyrocketing cost of tuition, which has really hit public universities like the University of Texas. More kids are dropping out before they finish college.

Because of the financial crisis on Wall Street, the No. 1 college loan fund, Sallie Mae, announced a few weeks ago that it will cut back on college loans. For black and Hispanic children, a Pew study found that not being able to go to college will keep them poor. Who will make up more voters in the Democratic primary in Texas? Blacks and Hispanics.

Clinton has lost 11 straight races, if you include the overseas vote of Democrats, because her campaign has been schizophrenic, unwieldy and unable to recognize the force of the power she's running against. Her job is to not to fight his speeches. That's an uphill battle. In fact, don't even mention his speeches, senator. Take your eyes off what he's saying and doing, and put them on the people.

Why did so many folks like her closing line in Thursday's debate? Because it had nothing to do with her but with the American people.

All throughout this campaign, she has emphasized how she's going to solve all of our problems. Obama? He constantly invokes "we." That resonates.

Thursday night, she said: "Whatever happens, we're going to be fine. You know, we have strong support from our families and our friends. I just hope that we'll be able to say the same thing about the American people, and that's what this election should be about."

Yep, "the American people."

As Clinton goes around Texas and Ohio, she should return to the strategy she employed in New Hampshire. Stop trying to compete with Obama on rallies, and convene town hall meetings. Take questions. Allow your inner policy wonk to take over.

She did well in the debates last year because she didn't bother showing her soft side. Instead, she made clear that she wanted to be the smartest person in the room. For those who haven't warmed up to Clinton by now, it's too late. This is when strength must be emphasized over any perceived weakness.

One thing is for sure: If Clinton chooses to operate the same way she has done over the last month, the only speech she'll be giving March 5 is one announcing that she is suspending her campaign.

Many have said that Obama has led a charmed life. But they forget that he got summarily whipped by Rep. Bobby Rush in Chicago. Clinton? This is only her third campaign. She's never lost. She's never tasted defeat personally in an election.

That could all change in two weeks if she doesn't lock and load on the economy.

It's all on you, senator. So what are you prepared to do?

Roland S. Martin is a nationally award-winning journalist and CNN contributor. Martin is studying to receive his master's degree in Christian communications at Louisiana Baptist University, and he is the author of "Listening to the Spirit Within: 50 Perspectives on Faith." You can read more of his columns at

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writer. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

All About Hillary ClintonBarack ObamaNational Economy

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