(CN) – After Sen. Bernie Sanders dealt her a surprise upset in Michigan’s presidential primary, Hillary Clinton is holding fast to a “national-style” approach for the five states in play on March 15, Clinton’s campaign manager said Wednesday.
The five states that will vote next Tuesday Ohio, Illinois, Missouri, and delegate-rich Florida and North Carolina have long been considered a critical juncture by the candidates, Democrat or Republican, seeking to secure their party’s nomination.
During a conference call with reporters Wednesday afternoon, Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook conceded the loss in Michigan was not anticipated, but said the outcome is far from sending his candidate or his team into a tailspin.
“The point I’m trying to make is that yes, they each won a primary last night, but the reality is she won more delegates coming out of the night,” Mook said.
Following her crushing takedown of Sanders in the South Carolina primary on Feb. 27, Clinton declared her campaign would from that point on be “national” in scope and focus on broad themes such as job creation and an end to wage stagnation.
However, exit polls Tuesday night suggested another broad theme, international trade, and the blame some place on the trade-liberalizing policies of her husband, President Bill Clinton, in the 1990s, likely played a role in Clinton’s narrow Michigan defeat.
“We have said we’re going argue our position as if we’re arguing it in one state across geographies in the Midwest, south, northeast and west … and we will continue to take this national-style approach to the five contests on March 15,” Mook said, adding, “We will compete in all five states with a goal of building our delegate lead.”
Mook said following his win in Michigan, “all signs point to Sen. Sanders competing especially hard in the three Midwestern states [in play] on March 15, Ohio, Illinois and Missouri” all of which have “demographics that are similar to those in Michigan.”
The campaign manager refrained from giving any indication that complacency might have played a role in the Michigan loss, but he did point that the polls heading into primary day were “very inaccurate.”
No polls had Sanders winning the contest and one published as recently as Sunday had Clinton winning by 37 points.
“I would emphasize that whatever the polls are saying … we would all be well-advised to treat the public polling coming out today and throughout this week with skepticism,” Mook said.
“Whatever the polls say, we know that Sen. Sanders is is going to fight hard in all three of those [Midwestern] states, and that despite what the public polling says, all three will be competitive.”
Mook then hastened to point reporters to the delegate map. Currently, allowing for uncertainties owing to ongoing vote tallies in certain congressional districts, Clinton has a 217 lead in pledged delegate over Sanders.
Pledged delegates, as opposed to “superdelegates” are awarded to candidates based on their performance in the specific congressional districts of the state a primary or caucus is held in.
“Even in a scenario where Sen. Sanders wins all three of the states he’s targeting in the Midwest Ohio, Illinois and Missouri we would still expect to win significantly more delegates on March 15, based not only on our strong showing in those same three states, but on our performance in the very delegate rich states of Florida and North Carolina, where we feel we are in a strong position,” he said.
“That’s why on the night of March 15, we are certain that we will add to our already commanding pledged delegate lead, and that we will be a significant step closer to securing the nomination.”
This brought Mook back to the loss Michigan, which several of the reporters speaking with him attempted to dissect.
“We are in a contest not only to establish a delegate lead, but to build on that delegate lead, and in that regard, last night was a success,” he said.
“Sen. Sanders is running a strategy to win individual states. He has been targeting selected states in each round of contests. Our contention is that that is not a strategy to ultimately win the nomination, that is a strategy … [simply] to win certain state contests,” he said.
Looking ahead to next week, Mook said “the game plan we are going to have is the same one we’ve had in every state we’ve competed in so far.”
“Sec. Clinton is going to work as hard as she can to go out and win every vote. She is going to build on the work that she did in Mississippi and Michigan and the Super Tuesday states, and continue to lay out a specific plan to create more good-paying jobs in this country,” he said.
“That’s a powerful message and one that we’ve already seen voters are especially receptive to … and so far, she’s the only candidate in this race that’s laid out a specific plan.”
“We will continue to amplify that and communicate that and campaign as hard as we can,” he said.
Asked in the Clinton time underestimated the field organization and ground effort of the Sanders campaign in Michigan, Mook rejected the assertion.
“I think it’s a little bit of a fool’s errand to try to assess the ground game,” he said. “We went all in in Michigan, just like we’re going all in in all five states on March 15. We had staff and offices on the ground for some time …”
Switching gears and trying for a different tact, Mook noted that Sanders once boasted of having 200 staff on the ground in South Carolina.
“He mocked our program there are insufficient, and I think everybody would agree that our victory there was nothing short of a blowout,” he said.
“That’s why I believe getting into this routine of comparing number of staff and the number of offices a particular campaign opens in a state is not valuable,” Mook continued. “We built a strategy to achieve the objectives that we believed we needed to win. That included an aggressive ground game. We are proud of the ground game in Michigan, just like we are of the ground game we had in South Carolina, Nevada, Iowa and other places.”
Pressed on Michigan and what the outcome might portend for the future, Mook said, “Obviously we would have liked to have gotten a few extra points last night.”
“But that just means, from our perspective, that we are going to have to work even harder to amplify Sec. Clinton’s economic argument. In states like Illinois, Ohio and Missouri, her message is of bringing more advanced manufacturing to these states, of installing 500,000 solar panels in her first time … that’s the kind of forward-looking job creation message that voters are looking for … so we are aligning this campaign to amplify that message as loudly and as clearly as we can nationally, and across those states.”
Mook also rejected any kind of framing of the Michigan results as a referendum on fixes that might have to be made before the general election and a possible showdown with Donald Trump.
“It’s premature to be thinking about anything regarding Donald Trump or the general election at all,” he said. “And I would caution against reading anything into primary elections vis-a-vis the general election. I ran then-Sen. Clinton’s Ohio campaign in 2008, and we won by nine points and later then-Sen. Obama went on to win Ohio in the general election. So you can’t really make comparison between what happens in a primary and what’s going to happen in a general election.”
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