Sunday, May 29, 2005

Handicapping Hillary 

As you probably read on Friday, a USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll found that 53% of Americans say they are likely to vote for Hillary Clinton if she runs for President in 2008. Coincidentally, National Journal reporters James A. Barnes and Peter Bell recently surveyed a group of Washington insiders (67 Democrats and 64 Republicans) about Ms. Clinton's prospects. The results, to be published in the next issue of the Atlantic, are already available (to print subscribers only, alas) at that magazine's website.

When asked whether Ms. Clinton was likely to win her party's nomination, both Democrats (by a 49-14 margin) and Republicans (48-8) agreed: the answer is yes. Selected comments from Democrats --
  • "If Hillary runs Hillary wins—simple as that. She's doing all the right things, going to all the right states, building up political chits, and steering for the middle. She has to convince the 'nervous Nellies' in the party though that she's not a totally polarizing figure and that she can win the general [election]."

  • "She'll raise more money than anybody (Kerry will do OK, and Warner has a lot of personal wealth, but neither can match Hillary). She has more name recognition than anybody who hasn't lost an election recently (Kerry, Edwards), and maybe more than those that have. She's charismatic, and has some pretty solid political advice a phone call away. In fact, if she runs, what is the compelling case others will make that she can be defeated for the nomination?"

  • "[If she wins,] she will make us a minority party for the next generation."
-- and from Republicans:
  • "She's going to start with the same type of financial and institutional advantage that Bush had in 2000. That means she can survive a few slip-ups that would finish off her opponents. And the Democrats don't have a McCain."

  • "I find it inconceivable that Democrats will land on a candidate as liberal and polarizing as Hillary. She will start as the frontrunner, but the real winner will come from those candidates who consistently finish second or third in the early contests. When reality sets in, one of those close seconds will emerge."

  • "She is a man among boys."
The insiders were then asked what would be the greatest obstacle for Clinton to overcome in the general election. The choices were A) Clinton fatigue; B) perceptions that she is too liberal; C) her gender; D) lack of foreign policy experience; and E) her persona. The GOP first:
  • "[Too liberal.] This is easy. What makes American and Democratic Party politics so interesting is that Democrats will not believe she is too liberal."

  • "Her gender, and interestingly the obstacle of gender won't come from men, but from women."

  • "She, like her husband, is more Nixon than she is Reagan or Bush: Incredibly smart and disciplined, but paranoid and too devious for her own good."

  • "She's still too sanctimonious, particularly when someone gets under her skin. While her gender isn't a big liability, it gives her less room for error if she comes across as a bitch. She'll have moved to the middle enough to satisfy most swing voters, and she's sharpening her foreign policy credentials. But if one of the debates gets tough, she'll turn into Bob Dole in drag."
And now the Democrats:
  • "Clinton fatigue, defined not as exhaustion with the Clintons per se, but the certainty that the right wing will continue its relentless effort to do everything and anything possible to take the Clintons down."

  • "[Too liberal.] Same argument that the Republicans use against every Democratic nominee."

  • "Hillary is too much of an established and polarizing personality. The only two Republicans Clinton could defeat are Tom Delay and Newt Gingrich."

  • "One question: do people trust her? If George Bush can play a shell game with WMDs, rely on faulty intelligence, run up the deficit while proclaiming to be a fiscal conservative, compromise the judiciary with controversial appointments, promote an energy policy that no one believes in, hold no one accountable for 9/11, undermine our alliances, and advocate tax breaks for the wealthy, then it is fair to say that the trust issue is up for grabs and certainly Hillary has a shot."

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