Feuding that crippled Clinton's bid for presidency

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The Independent US

Robert Barnett, Washington superlawyer and multi-purpose Clinton fixer, is normally a mild-mannered character. But by 6 March, he had had enough. "Stop it!," he told Mrs Clinton's feuding campaign staff. "For weeks I have held my tongue, but after this morning's Washington Post story, no longer. This makes me sick. This circular firing squad... must stop."

The story that drew Mr Barnett's ire was not a glowing follow-up after Mrs Clinton's wins in the Ohio and Texas primaries two days earlier. Instead it drew an uncannily accurate portrait of the infighting that plagued the campaign, fuelled by leaks from senior staffers with axes to grind – particularly against Mrs Clinton's chief strategist Mark Penn.

Mr Barnett's email is contained in an inside account of the collapse of the Clinton campaign in The Atlantic magazine, "The Front Runner's Fall". It portrays the candidate who prided herself on her ability to "do the job from day one" as sitting atop a dysfunctional campaign team.

One revealing moment came the morning after Mrs Clinton's third-place finish in the Iowa caucuses in January, as she held a conference call inquest with senior advisers. The call was full of silences, and Mrs Clinton ended up doing most of the talking. At the end she snapped, "This has been a very instructive call, talking to myself", and hung up.

The article charts the rise, fall and ultimate rise again of Mr Penn who favoured a hard-hitting campaign that went after Barack Obama's "lack of American roots". "Let's explicitly own 'American'," Mr Penn argues in a March 2007 memo. "He [Mr Obama] doesn't." But Mrs Clinton never wholly embraced that strategy, fearful it would openly inject race into the campaign.

The Atlantic expands upon the Clinton camp's inability to grasp the importance of the later-voting caucus states which helped seal Mr Obama's victory, and its overspending early on. Soon after her comeback victory in New Hampshire on 8 January, for instance, Mrs Clinton was told that, despite having raised $100m (£50m), her campaign coffers were empty. She loaned the campaign $5m, but thereafter was always at a big financial disadvantage to Mr Obama.

Mr Penn was finally ousted in late March, after revelations that, as a top Washington lobbyist, he was working for a free trade agreement with Colombia that Mrs Clinton opposed. Before that, however, he had mapped an unlikely path to victory. It urged Mrs Clinton to "push the envelope" against Mr Obama, and build a coalition of "Catholics, working class, Latinos and women – the key electorates".

It was a formula that produced a string of late wins in blue-collar states such as Pennsylvania and Kentucky, but then the nomination was all but lost. John McCain is already taking Mr Penn's thoughts to heart, in his own campaign against Mr Obama for the White House.