WASHINGTON — Hillary Clinton trails Barack Obama in votes, delegates and fundraising, but she's far better off than she was a month ago, when her campaign was staggering amid calls for her to exit the race for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Instead, she started winning again.
One major difference: Maggie Williams.
Democratic insiders say that Williams, who replaced Patti Solis Doyle as campaign manager in mid-February, has tamed the internal bickering that had plagued the Clinton camp.
Douglas B. Sosnik, a former top political aide to President Clinton who recently joined Hillary Clinton's campaign, said that Williams has "tried to put more structure to it and have more people involved in fewer things."
"The campaign was a small group of people that were trying to do everything," added a Clinton insider who's familiar with the workings of her campaign. He spoke on condition of anonymity, as did several others, because they weren't authorized to speak for the campaign.
"You had a really exhausted campaign — both campaigns are tired — that needed reinforcements," the insider said. He and others used the same word repeatedly when describing one of the biggest changes under Williams' rule: accountability.
"There's more accountability," he said.
He and others wouldn't cite specific examples of how Williams enforces accountability for fear of appearing to criticize Doyle, who's well liked in Clinton circles.
Still, the lack of planning for after "Super Tuesday," in which more than 20 states held caucuses or primaries Feb. 5, was a sign that the Clinton campaign wasn't well-managed, several party strategists said.
While it was widely assumed that the nomination essentially would be decided that day, it's a campaign manager's job to plan for every contingency. It turned out that Clinton and Obama finished Super Tuesday in a virtual dead heat. Then the Clinton team found itself out-organized, out-funded and outspent in state after state. That set the stage for Obama's crushing string of 12 straight primary and caucus victories, which nearly killed Clinton's campaign.
How did Williams turn things around? She won't say, declining to be interviewed for this story.
"I really, honest to God, would like to just get up every morning, go to work and do my job," Williams said in a voice-mail message responding to a request for an interview. "I'm not necessarily interested in talking about changes that I've made . ... I can't really say what change has occurred. I just try to work and see how it shakes out . ... I would rather work than talk about work."
To understand the difference that Williams has made, think of an underachieving, star-laden NFL team firing Pete Carroll, a friendly players' coach, and hiring Bill Parcells, a notorious taskmaster.
"She's been able to crack heads together and say, 'I don't give a (expletive) if you don't like each other, just do your job,' " said a Democratic strategist who's run several presidential campaigns. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he's involved in the campaign.
One reason Williams has been effective is that time is short and the challenges huge, conditions that help force squabbling advisers to put aside their differences.
Another is her longstanding relationship with the candidate. They've known each other since the 1980s. Williams was Clinton's chief of staff when she was first lady, while Doyle was Clinton's scheduler, a post with far less authority.
"The only way she's able to do this is the candidate has her back," the strategist said.
Williams was a closer partner in Clinton's work as first lady than Doyle was. That became clear last week, when the National Archives released Clinton's daily schedules as first lady. Clinton met almost daily for 15 minutes with both Doyle and Williams, immediately followed by another 15 minutes with Williams alone.
To be sure, factors other than Williams taking the reins are helping Clinton.
Her February fundraising was a vast improvement for a campaign that was nearly broke. That allowed her to compete in key primaries March 4, winning Texas, Ohio and Rhode Island. Obama's limited appeal to Latino and white working-class voters meant that those three states were tailor-made for Clinton.
Then, too, as Obama emerged as the front-runner, he began to face more scrutiny over his relationship with his indicted Chicago fundraiser Antoin Rezko and his two-decade affiliation with controversial minister Jeremiah Wright's church in Chicago.
"I think it's just the ebb and flow of things," said Donald Fowler, a Clinton supporter and former Democratic National Committee chairman from South Carolina.
"She (Clinton) got a lot of crap when the (former) president got in a dustup in South Carolina. It wasn't planned, but it happened. I think people, because the competition is more intense, are paying more attention to the campaign, and that thing with Senator Obama's minister, which has been to Senator Clinton's benefit."
McClatchy Newspapers 2008