Hillary is Not a Lock for 2008
You hear it again and again around the Beltway. Hillary sitting atop the Democratic ticket in '08 is all but a done deal. She's got too much name recognition, too much money, too much star power to be denied. In short, the Washington Conventional Wisdom is that Hillary is unbeatable for the nomination because she is unbeatable for the nomination.
But how reliable is this piece of DC CW? According to a quick survey of the facts on the ground: not very.
Let's start with the oft-cited notion that thanks to her relentless triangulation (anti-flag burning, anyone?), hawkish stance on the war, and frequent photo ops with the likes of Gingrich, Frist, and Santorum, Hillary has put her liberal past behind her and now has the ability to attract red state voters. True believers in this tenet point to Hillary's popularity in conservative upstate New York as proof.
"Like Moses leading her party to the Promised Land," wrote Eleanor Clift in Newsweek, "Hillary is treading a path to Red-State America. She may be the darling of the liberal left, but she won in New York by appealing to upstate voters who are traditionally Republican."
Clinton insider Mike McCurry agreed: "Hillary really went upstate New York and won the hearts of people there. That's hard to do, because that's pretty much red-state country in some of those counties up there."
Sounds very convincing. The trouble is, it's wrong -- as Marisa Katz shows in this week's New Republic in her terrific takedown of the Upstate = Red State myth. "Numbers-wise," Katz writes, "upstate [New York] is far more purple than red." And she reminds us that "even in this less-than-hostile-terrain" Hillary "actually lost upstate by three points to her 2000 opponent, Rick Lazio."
Even more damning is the fact that the presidential runs of both Al Gore and John Kerry attracted more upstate voters -- and carried more upstate counties -- than Hillary did. "If Gore and Kerry won upstate New York," writes Katz, "but couldn't make sufficient red-state inroads, Clinton's loss upstate doesn't seem to bode well for her potential in truly red parts of the country." The final nail in the upstate/redstate coffin: Hillary's upstate numbers are very similar to those of the senior senator from New York, Chuck Schumer -- and, as Katz zings it, "no one is talking him up as the Democrats' best chance to reclaim the White House."
The other side of the Hillary-can't-miss equation is her strength with the Democratic base. You often hear this from those trying to rationalize her feints to the right -- the thinking being that her triangulation is okay because, hey, she's already got the grassroots sewn up.
This CW was summed up by the New York Daily News when it brushed off Hillary's conservative stances, saying that despite her "ideological diversions, much of the Democratic power base still adores Hillary." Or as Susan Estrich wrote in "The Case for Hillary Clinton": "Which of your safe white men are going to excite the base the way Hillary does, so they can spend all their time in the middle. I'll answer: None."
But does the Democratic base really love Hillary? The latest straw poll taken by MyDD would seem to indicate otherwise. Hillary came in seventh. That's right, seventh, placing behind -- in order -- Feingold, Clark, Warner, Edwards, Richardson, and "Undecided." Sure, MyDD is just one blog, but it's an influential one -- and, increasingly grassroots and netroots are becoming one and the same.
After the Hillary-in-sixth poll ran, MyDD's Chris Bowers followed up with a post titled "Why the Blogosphere and the Netroots Do Not Like Hillary Clinton." Slate's Jacob Weisberg argued that Hillary is simply too unlikable to win. Then there was Molly Ivins' Hillary bodyslam, an "I've had enough" blow that clearly hit a nerve. I've had that column forwarded to me more times in the last few days than I can count.
Ivins' shot from the progressive side of the aisle was followed by Andrew Sullivan's blast from the conservative. Sounds like the makings of a countervailing consensus.
So much for politics. What about the cultural zeitgeist? After 8 years of the Cowboy from Crawford isn't the country finally ready for a woman in the Oval Office? Proponents of this theory often point to the popularity of ABC's "Commander-in-Chief" as Exhibit A. Indeed, I heard more than one Hollywood-based fan of Hillary suggest that Geena Davis' Best Actress win at the Golden Globes bodes well for Hillary carrying Iowa. Hey, who needs the primaries when you've got the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, right?
But those trying to read the cultural zeitgeist -- let alone equate it with political popularity -- better beware. Nielsen families can be a very fickle voting bloc. Just ask Heather Graham, who went from being the new face of ABC to the TV slagheap after just one-and-done airing of her "Emily's Reasons Why Not."
Despite Davis' win, "Commander-in-Chief" has, to the chagrin of all of us who would love to see nothing better than a woman in the oval office, seen a steady decline in its ratings. "It's been tough sledding," Steve McPherson, ABC's president of prime time entertainment, told a gathering of TV critics this weekend.
It's a pity. It's a good show that I love watching with my two teenage daughters. Which is more than I can say for Hillary's dreary slog toward '08. So forget the Hillary CW. Democrats looking to win back the White House had better start offering their "Reasons Why Not."