The Democrats' Hillary Dilemma
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ven before the cheers died down over Hillary Clinton's crushing Senate reelection victory, the clamor started for her to announce that she'll run for the presidency in 2008.
The clamor at first glance seems justified. She has phenomenal national name recognition. She can raise tons of money. She's morphed into a stateswoman like seasoned centrist politician. She's the consummate party insider.
And a woman at the top of a government's heap is no longer a novelty. In 2005, there were 6 female presidents and four female prime ministers. If an earlier in the year CBS poll can be believed she won't have to buck a public backlash over a woman for president. More than 90 percent of Americans now claim they'll vote for a woman for president. Despite Hillary's huge political plusses, she still poses a dilemma for the Democrats.
She's still, well Hillary, and to top cat Republicans licking their wounds over their midterm debacle, she's still their made-in-heaven balm. Hillary is a living, breathing wedge issue. With Hillary as the Democratic presidential standard bearer, the Democrats could be 170 electoral votes in the hole before the first vote is cast.
That's the number of votes that the Democrats can kiss good-bye in the South and several Border States. Bush, as all Republican presidents since Nixon, either swept or got a near sweep of the South. Though some conservative Republicans jumped Bush's ship in the midterm elections and voted for Democrats, the majority still backed Republicans.
They would almost certainly jump back to the Republicans in 2008 with Hillary as candidate. That would make it virtually impossible for the Democrats to pry the crucial one, let alone, two states away from the Southern Republican bloc.
The loss of that big a swath of electoral votes going in the presidential election door can be dumped squarely on the deep and resonant hate Bill residue that still taints her. The instant she and hubby set foot in the White House she became every bit the target of hard line conservatives that Bill was. When she compared her advocacy battles to Eleanor Roosevelt's that set off even louder warning bells among them. The comparison was not entirely a stretch.
Hillary and Eleanor were the two first Ladies that profoundly influenced their husbands on crucial public policy issues. That further insured that the Republicans eight-year vendetta against them would be unprecedented in the annals of American politics. They pounded both with the Whitewater and Lewinsky scandals, and blasted her for micromanaging Clinton initiatives on health care, women's choice, and civil rights.
When Hillary hit back and branded the hate Clintons campaign as a vast right wing conspiracy, that sent the Hillary bashers into paroxysms of rage. Though the impeachment drive against Bill eventually crashed and burned, her political activism marked her as someone capable of stepping out of Bill's shadow and carving out her own political path. That made her even more of an inviting target.
That hasn't changed. The weeks before the mid-term elections, evangelical pied piper Jerry Fallwell lathered her with the devil image. That was a calculated slap. He knew the name Hillary might be the one name that could send conservative evangelicals scurrying to the barricades to beat back the Democrats' onslaught. It didn't work.
One third of white evangelicals broke ranks and voted for the Democrats in the mid-terms. But that does not mean that they have made peace with the Democrats, let alone feel any more benevolent toward Hillary. She still stirs their passions, and Fallwell and company will rouse those passions even more in an effort to get the evangelical defectors back into the fold in 2008.
Hillary's smash Senate victory is also misleading. Her opponent was an under-funded, lightly regarded, almost straw man candidate. That won't be the case in a national race. She'd go head to head with the GOP big guns. Polls show that in a one to one contest with former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani and Arizona Senator John McCain, Hillary trailed badly. In one poll, a near majority of respondents gave her little chance to win. Only the two failed Democratic presidential candidates, Al Gore and John Kerry, and the long out of power, even more polarizing, Newt Gingrich got higher negatives as potential presidential candidates.
In exit polls on election night, one out of five New York voters were adamant that Hillary would not make a good president. And these were the voters that backed her in her Senate victory. While the woman as president bias appears dead in the polls, Republicans, seniors and conservatives are still more likely to oppose a woman as president than other groups.
The Democrats are convinced that they are within striking distance of bagging the White House, and Hillary is the best -- or at least the best known -- and brightest stars that they have right now. They need her. But they also need someone who can win. Yet a majority of Democrats fervently say in some polls that she can win. That's the Democrat's Hillary dilemma.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is a political analyst and social issues commentator, and the author of The Emerging Black GOP Majority (Middle Passage Press, September 2006), a hard-hitting look at Bush and The GOP's court of black voters.