Sen. Clinton's popularity

Matt Towery

8/3/2004 12:00:00 AM - Matt Towery

 I am continually amazed by the number of knowledgeable conservatives who underestimate Sen. Hillary Clinton's popularity. I'm equally surprised that the general public can't see through her obsessive desire to capture the White House -- and therefore her unacknowledged but likely wish to see Sen. John Kerry and Sen. John Edwards lose in November.

 First, the news that Republicans and conservatives never want to hear or believe: Sen. Hillary Clinton is the one person among Democrats who this year could have sailed to a virtually guaranteed win against President Bush in the general election. What? This overwhelmingly liberal, conniving and self-serving senator from New York? That's right.

 Every InsiderAdvantage survey we have ever conducted has shown support for Hillary that doesn't exist for other Democrats. In hypothetical match-ups against any assortment of potential opponents, she enjoys huge crossover support, mostly from women who describe themselves as Independents or moderate Republicans. And this is no weak trend. It's an undeniable pattern.

 This creates great confusion and even disbelief among those of us who believe the former first lady is far too liberal (and less charming) than her husband, former President Bill Clinton. So let's illustrate the Clintons' continued hold over much of the public by posing the following question to America. InsiderAdvantage, with our polling partners The Marketing Workshop, asked it prior to the Democratic National Convention.

 Q: Do you believe Bill and Hillary Clinton want John Kerry to win the presidential election against George W. Bush?

 Yes  67 percent
 No  14 percent
 Don't know 19 percent

 Why did we ask this question? Because it seems clear to many informed Republicans -- and even to many in-the-know Democrats -- that a Kerry-Edwards victory in November might end, once and for all, Sen. Hillary Clinton's ambitions to be our nation's first woman president.

 Four years of a Kerry administration would be followed by his re-election campaign. And that would force Hillary to either profess her continued loyalty to a Democratic president, or to openly challenge an incumbent of her party, much as Gene McCarthy and Bobby Kennedy challenged President Lyndon Johnson in 1968. Either way, she would probably have to stay out of the way until 2012. That's a long wait for someone so ambitious.

 Of course, the former first lady has consistently denied presidential aspirations. Both she and the former president have consistently pledged to do everything possible to help elect Kerry in November. But one has to wonder just how much heart they are really putting into a fight that, if successful, would likely frustrate any realistic shot at another Clinton White House.

 And while Hillary got the rock star-like reception at the Democratic convention last week, it was clearly former President Bill Clinton who remains the real headline act. Looking back, it's now clear the campaign waged by Al Gore in 2000 probably blew its best chances for winning big by not asking then-President Clinton to work his magic and breathe new life into that effort by hitting the campaign trail on Gore's behalf. And for those who insist on denying reality -- including Gore, at least back then -- let's point out that Bill Clinton still enjoyed very high approval ratings, his impeachment experience notwithstanding. Judging from his near-perfect convention speech last week -- compared to Hillary's stilted, barking performance -- there's little doubt that Democrats need "Hollywood Bill" in 2004 if they are to pull off the win they believe is within their grasp.

 Based on our past surveys, it's also clear the Democrats will need Sen. Clinton's help if Kerry is to widen what is now the modest margin by which women support Kerry over Bush. However, the greatest contribution Hillary Clinton could have made to Kerry would have been to serve as his vice-presidential running mate. But Kerry never offered.

 It's hard to believe the rather motley-looking, rank-and-file delegates at the Democratic convention were as supportive of Sen. Kerry's move-to-the-middle acceptance speech as they appeared to be on TV. It's just as difficult to believe the Clintons have their hearts and souls in a race that will either elect Kerry or leave John Edwards as the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008. But it's obvious the public believes the Clintons are sincere in their support of this year's ticket. Time will tell.