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Does Hillary Have a Primary Problem?

by Pamela Leavey

For all intents and purposes some folks seem to think Hillary Clinton will take the Democratic nomination in ’08, with a wink of the eye. She’s been declared the frontrunner before she’s even announced she’s running. I’m curious… just how does that work? Aren’t our elections about voters making choices? Or are they about believing what the media tells us and then voting for a candidate because every pundit declares that candidate the frontrunner?

I have a problem with having my mind made up for me. I’m not a sheeple, I’m a voter with a mind of my own and I’d really like the opportunity to see all the candidates and or potential candidates get treated with some respect by the media. Our choice of the next Democratic nominee, let alone the next president should not be dictated by the MSM, the Republican Noise Machine or the pundits — the choice be by the people.

The National Journal leans far too right for my taste but Chuck Todd made a good point yesterday in his On The Trail Buzz Column:

Too many of us have awarded Clinton the ’08 nod too soon and too easily. The conventional-wisdom crowd is easily impressed by two things about her candidacy: money and her last name. There’s also a dirty little secret that those of us in the media are leery to admit: She’s good for business (particularly expense reports).

Take the money and surname drama and add a dash of media anticipation, and you get the simplest explanation of the perceived Clinton juggernaut.

There’s one flaw in all of this, though, and that is the electorate. As the likelihood of a Clinton campaign becomes a reality, more reasons turn up that suggest why she could lose the nomination. In fact, the primary may be harder for her than the general election. A bad three-week period at the wrong time in the wrong state could doom a bid, particularly with this front-loaded primary calendar. While the same thing can happen in a general, the same ridiculous scoring of expectations doesn’t apply to general elections the way it does in primary battles.

Hillary Clinton may have the moeny and the name drama drawing the pundits but the big question is can she draw the voters? Maybe not says Todd and he lays out 6 reasons why she could “blow up in the primary“:

  • Passion: Who loves her? How big is this group of voters?
    Now ask yourself, who loves Illinois Sen. Barack Obama (D)? Who loves former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards (D)? Or even Arizona Sen. John McCain (R) or former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R)? And of course, who loves former President Bill Clinton?

    Anecdotally, numerous Democratic activists around the country don’t appear to love the former first lady. There’s a whole lot of “like” — they have a loyalty to her. They want to back her, and they want to walk on hot coals for her, but they haven’t gotten there yet. But potential rivals like Obama and former Vice President Al Gore both have incredibly passionate supporters. Passion can be important in a primary, particularly when things turn south. The candidate with a passionate and loyal base can withstand a few bad weeks; candidates who lack passionate supporters can disappear forever. Then again, if you can’t be with the one you love, then do you love the one you’re with?

  • Iowa: I’ve said it before — there’s no tougher state for Clinton to start this quest than Iowa. This purple state (which just showed major signs of getting bluer) has never elected a woman as governor or senator, nor has it even elected a woman to Congress. The Hawkeye State is full of older voters and blue-collar labor union members who have appeared hesitant to elect women to executive positions all throughout the Midwest. Toss in the very liberal nature of a Democratic caucus-goer there and the fact that the Clintons didn’t need to campaign in the state during either of the former president’s campaigns, and you have a hurdle in Iowa that is much harder to clear than folks in D.C. might believe.
  • Iraq: She’s been far more critical of the war recently, but fundamentally she’s still a hawk, and the Democratic primary electorate (especially in Iowa) is full of doves. Can her semi-pro-intervention argument on Iraq withstand an onslaught of criticism from each one of her opponents? She’s no Sen. Joe Lieberman, I/D-Conn., but could she end up accumulating Lieberman-like hatred in the blogosphere because of Iraq? It’s possible.
  • Gender: This will be an issue, particularly in the Midwest, which is why it’s a problem. Should she get the nomination, however, her gender’s assets (both the historical significance and the hesitance her GOP opponent will have in attacking her) give her a net plus.
  • Bill Clinton: Let’s get something straight. Without her spouse, the former first lady wouldn’t be in the front-runner position she’s in now. But what strikes me as the biggest problem he causes is the heap of comparisons he presents. She’ll never “be like Bill” no matter how the media frames stories about her campaign — in the text of her speeches, on the stump or as someone who can both take and deliver a punch. Dom DiMaggio was one of the better players in baseball, but he was no Joe DiMaggio. Some argue that if Dom’s last name were anything but DiMaggio, he would have been voted into the Hall of Fame.
  • President Bush: Welcome to what I believe is the single biggest problem for Clinton. It’s Bush, America’s second “legacy” president. It’s not that any Democratic voter will believe she will be like the younger Bush as president — it’s that Democrats may want to break the cycle of Bush, Clinton, Bush and Clinton. It’s possible voters got the “change” bug out of their system in ’06, but if not, the fatigue of the same people in charge for a 20-year period (or basically, a generation) is going to be a problem. Clinton’s far from being an outsider. Also, don’t underestimate the polarization fatigue. No matter who started it, the twin-wing hatred of the Bushes on the left and the Clintons on the right may be exhausting the political system. Perhaps that “Rodham” name can be of use after all…
  • “Now,” says Todd, “compare these six hurdles to the reasons why some believe she’s unstoppable (money, name and media).” Good points, I have to say. All of them. Here’s my take… This woman voter, isn’t at all convinced that Hillary can overcome the gender issue in the Midwest. I’m not at all excited or passionate about Hillary and partially because of the point Todd makes about breaking out of legacy thing… time for a change. Then there’s Hillary on Iraq… it’s like Hellocan we get with the program yet, Hillary? It’s time to leave Iraq. It’s past time.

    Needless to say the next few month will be very interesting as we wait out the who will or won’t run game. Until they all step up to the plate, it’s refreshing to hear atleast one pundit admit, perhaps the media has been too quick and too easy to award Hillary Clinton the ’08 nod.

    Finally, Chuck Todd gives us a reminder of another candidate that was in a position similar to Clinton 22 years ago:

    Former Vice President Walter Mondale got the Democratic nod in ’84 because his loyal base of support was just too much for former Colorado Sen. Gary Hart to overcome. But that was many media transformations ago, and I’m not sure Mondale would have survived in ’84 in this climate.

    Clinton will be bucking the media and the blogosphere — left and right. I don’t forsee the ’08 election being easy on any of the candidates at this point, including Hillary. The primary season is when when voters make their first choices for party nominees. Let’s leave it up to the voters, not the media.

    10 Responses to “Does Hillary Have a Primary Problem?”

    1. The week before the Iowa Caucus in 2004 EVERYBODY on the Capital Gang program stated unequivocally that Howard Dean would win the Caucus and the nomination — he had more money, more organization than anyone else. There was no doubt expressed by anyone.

      I am suspect over these ASSURANCES, that Hillary WILL BE the nominee in 2008.

    2. Howard Dean was a front runner.

    3. I think the key here is the PASSION thing. I don’t think I’ve ever met a Dem (or obviously a Repub) that is a fired up supporter of Hillary. Yes, it’s still early, and I don’t live in NY, but it remains to be seen if she can actually get a following. I live in Ohio, and throw a lot of the “stolen elcection” theories aside………….in 2004 the GOP had a lot more boots on the ground here, and in ’06 we caught up with that. Hil’s money and name won’t get boots on the ground!
      As a prime example of this, look no further than the “Take Back America” event in June ’06. Hillary did her bit, some applause and a few boos. She had good points, stuck to her guns, and delivered a decent speech. Exit stage left. Then, the REAL DEAL steps up to the mic, and has a couple standing O’s early, then floors the audience with “I was wrong to vote for that Iraq Resolution” and the place erupts. Pandemonium. Money and the name will get you so far. Connection to the voters and boots on the ground will win an election. I won’t say she can’t do it and won’t deny that she would be a breath of fresh air in DC, but I am saying she doesn’t have that loyal base, at least as of now.

    4. In a word – YES! Yes, Hillary has a problem in the primaries.

    5. Curious as to how Gore will fit in in all of this.

      There was an article talking about how Carville (guess Hil abandoned him) is working for him now, and that is “considering” a run as well.

      Former president Carter is pushing him as “the most qualified” presidential candiate, and of course, the lefty forums (i.e. DU) think he is a liberal saint.

      I think it all goes back to 2000 and there is a sympathy thing, especially those that think Gore “fought” and Kerry “wimped out,” “caved”. Go figure.

      But anyway, that’s an interesting read.

    6. I don’t know about Gore. While he has not totally ruled out a run for president, I keep seeing him in interview after interview (including one in CQ Magazine recently) say he has no plans to run for president. Until Gore says otherwise, he ain’t running.

    7. On this wimped and caved thing. After the Supreme Ct, all we had were states. Two unfriendly-FL & OH, and one possibly, NM

    8. Marjorie,

      I think there was fraud in those states, but sadly the perception still exist that Gore “fought” and Kerry didn’t. I understand the outcomes were different though.

      No suprise the lefty blogs fawn all over Gore because of this (the sympathy factor of the 2000 election) and think that just because he hasn’t been in the media spotlight until this year that he has “evolved” because the media no longer says he invented the internet.

    9. You have to wonder where were all these gore is a saint folks back in 2000 when Nader was saying dubya and gore were one in the same and many lefties bought it.

      They are going for Gore to spite hill and because some of them probably gave their vote to Nader and now see what a mess things have become.

      Gore should have asked for a recount of all the state not 3 counties and he would have won with no doubts.

      Instead of being the defacto president after 9/11 he stands up at a Jefferson Jackson dinner and said loudly George bush is my president and that did it for me.

      I like many people had family members in NYC and DC and there is no way in hell I would have stood up and said bush was my president. I didn’t do it then and I won’t do it now no matter what.

      One question for the Gore folks. Can Al win Tennessee?

    10. Hillary is not dead weight, but she is only a campaign voice now, resulting in an Obama presidency. She is famous enough to throw her weight around at big money luncheons, and give her speech. She is too polarizing to do anything else.

      She might campaign to draw in liberal votes, them through them to Obama who can play the centrist game.

      We like Obama here in Illinois. Few have been as effective as he is in bringing Fed money. He is green enough to think he is not being run around by the system, yet ingrained enough to get us what we want.