In 2008, in a strategic blunder that reflected a combination of miscalculation and complacency, Hillary Clinton effectively conceded the nation’s caucus states to Barack Obama. This year, Clinton cast the tragic hero of that failure in a starring role: campaign manager Robby Mook oversaw her 2008 campaign in Nevada, the only caucus state where Clinton won more votes than Obama, even though he cleared more delegates. A very narrow victory in Iowa reassured Clinton’s team that it can compete in the logistically demanding contests where liberal activists usually hold sway. Ever since, state-campaigns director Marlon Marshall—who had served under Mook as Nevada field director in 2008—has been choreographing a diaspora of Iowa staff with a particular eye to the unique value of caucus expertise; all of her regional field directors in the first caucus states have been dispatched to the others that will follow. Even if an operation led by Mook and Marshall will not be blindsided at a caucus, do they have the assets to win one?
The caucuses that follow Nevada’s on Saturday are shaping up as a battleground for the Democratic nominating campaign’s most asymmetrical conflict. The 13 caucus states, along with Guam and the Virgin Islands, represent a total of 488 pledged delegates, more than California has on offer in its June primary. Clinton and her opponent, Bernie Sanders, have devoted the most attention to Colorado and Minnesota—which will both vote on March 1 and where both candidates spoke at state-party dinners in consecutive nights last weekend—but it is the caucus scramble beyond them that will represent the greatest challenge. “There’s more competition for a campaign like ours, because they’ll have a lot of the vote identified and ready to deliver,” says Tad Devine, Sanders’s chief strategist.