Friday, December 08, 2006

Democratic Nomination is Hillary's to Lose

I've been telling my students all semester that the Democratic presidential nomination for 2008 is Hillary Clinton's to lose. She's got the name recognition and the fundraising power. Of course, she's got spousal backup in her hubbie big Bill, who will be out on the hustings throughout 2007 on her behalf.

Dick Morris and Eileen McGann in today's New York Post agree, noting that the real race in next year's preprimary jockeying will be for the spot of runner-up front runner. Who are the top candidates? Probably not Barack Obama, who needs to rise above Oprah-level political sophistication to considered a real challenger:

Can Obama weather a presidential race? He better ramp up his learning curve if he is going to try. His book is filled with feature-story fluff about his background, eloquent philosophizing on the state of our nation and its history, and freshly scrubbed naiveté about the political process.

But it lacks any substantive ideas, policy innovations or even any insightful analysis of public issues. Unless he can step beyond such Oprah-level content, the national press corps will have him for breakfast.

The bottom line? He could grow into the role of a national candidate, but don't count on it happening this year.

Even if he does, it is hard to see a senator with only two years under his belt and little campaign experience beating a wily and wizened veteran like Hillary. (Of course, she might then have to woo back the black voters she'd alienate in the process. This logic could impel a VP nomination for Obama.)

Who else might be the Un-Hillary? Sen. John Kerry, the '04 nominee, destroyed whatever hopes he had left by dumping on our troops in Iraq; his announcement that he'll spend early 2007 testing the waters may show that he's gotten the message.

After all, Kerry now trails his '04 running mate, ex-Sen. John Edwards, in the polls. His wife's moving account of her battle with cancer has no doubt helped her husband, but he still doesn't impress.

He'd have to outflank Hillary to the left, and while his flagrant empathy for the victims of globalization might get him some traction, he seems more likely to become a later-day Dick Gephardt trying to parlay labor support into a nomination. Don't count on Edwards.

That leaves Al Gore as the most viable alternative to Hillary. Anti-war from the start, way out ahead of the rest of the country on the global-warming issue and already the winner of a plurality of the popular vote in a presidential race, Al could take Hillary on.

But he can't just jump into the race. Because he's been so ambivalent about running since his 2000 defeat, he's got to wait on the sideline to see if Obama or Edwards emerge as real alternatives to Hillary. Only if other options falter will Democrats turn their lonely eyes to Al.
After the initial enthusiasm for Hillary wears off, her vulnerability will become apparent to the Democratic primary electorate. They won't hate her as Republicans do, but they may come to see her as a flawed candidate who'll only bring them defeat in an election they are desperate to win.

At that point, Gore could well emerge and give her a tough run.

If Gore passes on the race, then longer shots - Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh or Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack - might begin to look good.

But make no mistake: This race is Hillary's to win or to lose.

I'm intrigued by an Al Gore bid. Morris and McGann raise some interesting points. I also think Gore's graceful concession following the controversial Bush v. Gore upset in 2000 puts him in good stead on the basis of earned credibility (although one could argue that he ran a lousy campaign in 2000, and should have defeated G.W. easily).

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