Hillary Clinton is officially running for president. She has now hopped on the “Scooby” van, which is part of a road trip from New York To Iowa. CNN decided to mark this occasion by reporting that the former first lady has been spotted in Pennsylvania to fill up her “champion” mobile. Yet, there does seem to be some changes from this initial rollout. For starters, this trip only consists of a three-car caravan, not a motorcade of black SUVs. She’s trying to ditch the limousine liberal bit, but even CNN anchors laughed at the notion that she would be pumping her own gas.
Guy wrote earlier today how Clinton is a vulnerable frontrunner, but one that should be underestimated by the Republicans. And despite Democrats and Independents wanting a strong primary challenge to Clinton, it may work to the party's detriment. At the same time, the fact that it appears she will be running towards Obama's record on the economy is a huge gamble, one that Team Hillary seems willing to take if they can reconstitute the old Obama coalition that provided him with a “blue wall” of support for 2008 and 2012. Still, from the Oracle Nate Silver, Clinton still has a 50-50 shot of becoming president. While they’re not bad odds, it’s a figure that should be unsettling for the operatives of this well-oiled political machine.
While foreign policy will probably play a bigger role in this election, the main issues will still be centered on the economy. And the economic outlook could be better for 2016, in which a competitive election will become only more intense. Silver noted that most economic projections are unforeseeable more than six months in advance, which is probably why George Will quoted liberal economist John Kenneth Galbraith on economic projections in 2011; Galbraith said that the purpose of economic projections was to make astrology look respectable.
While foreign policy was able to move the needle to the right in 2014, especially in the North Carolina Senate race, foreign policy isn’t a slam-dunk on an electoral success. George H.W. Bush had record high approval ratings after he won the first Gulf War in 1991; he lost to Bill Clinton due to a stagnating economy. I consider the 2004 win by George W. Bush something of an outlier. We had just launched a large and concerted ground operation in Iraq, we were in the first stages in an unconventional war–the War on Terror–and preventing another 9/11 was still very much in everybody’s minds. Now, whether we will see a return of the “security moms” that flocked to the GOP that year remains to be seen, but we shouldn’t bank on beating Hillary solely on the fact that her foreign policy record has been lit aflame in recent weeks.
But let’s focus on what lies ahead of Hillary in her road trip. As she heads into Iowa, there are reports that Clinton's people have not been good at keeping in contact with the local party chairpersons and key activists, who view grassroots interaction as incredibly important to winning over voters. Right now, she looks like she may be heading into another lukewarm reception (via the Guardian):
In both the Iowa counties that were her strongholds when she last ran to be Democratic candidate for president, as well as those where she did the worst, activists have expressed skepticism about her nascent campaign’s efforts so far. Although many who supported her in 2008 were still onboard, they said they had heard little from the Clinton camp.
Linda Nelson, chair of the Democratic Party in Pottawattamie County, a prosperous county in south-west Iowa that includes the city of Council Bluffs and was Clinton’s No2 county last time, said she had had one phone call from Clinton’s national campaign manager, Robby Mook, who reached out to her while driving across Iowa with Matt Paul, Clinton’s state director. She said Mook assured her that the Clinton campaign “will be all over the state and they will have an organization”.
That phone call was more than other key activists had received prior to the formal launch of Clinton’s campaign.
Connie Gronstal, a prominent Democratic activist in Pottawattamie County whose husband Mike is the majority leader in the Iowa state senate, considered the most powerful Democrat in the state, told the Guardian Clinton and her allies had not excelled keeping in touch.
Don Smith, the former county chair in Poweshiek County, home to Grinnell College and Clinton’s second-worst county in 2008, told the Guardian: “I know of no one here who is enthusiastic about Hillary. The people here who were enthusiastic about her seven years ago tended to be middle-aged and older women who really wanted a woman president and identified with Clinton as the embodiment of their generation.”
Nevertheless, by default, she will garner a lot of support for being the frontrunner, but we’ll see if Clinton can exhibit the tenacity and aggressiveness needed to show that she’s an authentic candidate.
Believe it or not, some folks in Iowa think that former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley could beat Clinton if he plays his card right (via National Journal):
Iowa Democrats want to feel like they have a choice. In nearly three dozen interviews, top party activists and dedicated caucus-goers spoke almost unanimously about their desire for a contested 10-month campaign, a spirited debate over how to move the country further left to address income inequality, wage stagnation, and other liberal causes. Just as important, they don't want to be taken for granted. They don't want Clinton to forget the lessons of 2008, when her haughty, top-heavy campaign rankled Iowa Democrats, who then punished her with a third-place shaming.
They want a contest, not a coronation.
"I don't know too many people who are solidly for Hillary," said Bob Ward, 32, a clerk from Des Moines who attended the O'Malley event to learn about his alternatives. "Iowans tend to keep an open mind," he said. "I know I do."
Standing nearby, Emily Holley, 30, said O'Malley could win Iowa "if he puts on the same moves as (Barack) Obama did in 2007 and 2008. No gathering was too small. He was in coffee shops and living rooms and places like this—and that's why he won and Hillary lost. She didn't do that."
I heard the same warning after I left the bar and talked to Democratic Party insiders: Clinton campaigned like an entitled incumbent, favoring large rallies over the intimate and demanding conversations that Iowans expect. Most doubt her ability to change.
"I don't know if you can teach her to be a nice person, to teach her to be open," said Mike Glover, an iconic Iowa journalist who retired from The Associated Press in 2012 and now writes for an Iowa Democratic website.
"I think there will be a real challenge to Hillary," Glover said. It could come from Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont or former Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia, but Glover said O'Malley is the most likely insurgent. "I think he can win."
Jeff Link, one of Iowa's foremost Democratic strategists, said party activists are still morose over the 2014 elections, and need a jolt of enthusiasm that can only come from a hard-fought presidential caucus. "There is a genuine longing for a contest," he said. "Everywhere I go, people say they want Hillary tested."
So, it would appear that detriments be damned, Democratic voters in this early voting state want a robust primary.
Yet, touching back on Guy's point about not underestimating Clinton, Harry Enten, also of Silver’s FiveThirtyEight blog, discussed the inner dynamics of this “steamroller;” one which may have sucked up any oxygen from what’s left of a field of would-be challengers:
Clinton has pretty much already won the endorsement primary, the all-important pre-voting race to lock up party establishment support.2 Last time she ran for president, Clinton lost the endorsement primary. By this point in the 2008 campaign, she had only one senator endorse her publicly. According to a CNN count in February, Clinton has already secured endorsements from 27 of 46 Democratic senators. That’s a ton of support so early in the campaign.
But here’s the more amazing thing about those 27 endorsements: That total would still be impressive even if no one else were to endorse Clinton. Only George W. Bush’s 2000 machine picked up more senator endorsements (33), and it took him the entire primary campaign. He didn’t reach 27 until November 1999. The only other two campaigns to come close to 27 were Bob Dole’s in 1996 and Al Gore’s in 2000; each picked up 26. Like Bush, Dole and Gore rolled over the competition.
Just as important as the number of endorsements is where they are coming from on the ideological spectrum. Clinton is earning endorsements from the left, center and right of the Democratic caucus.
Unlike in 2008, Clinton has her left flank well-covered. She has the endorsement of liberal stalwarts such as Sens. Tammy Baldwin and Elizabeth Warren. Clinton also has the endorsement of moderate senators such as Joe Manchin and Claire McCaskill.
Oh, there’s the fundraising bit, but it goes without saying that Hillary will outraise any of her potential challengers, who appear to be former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb, and possibly Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.
Enten also wrote about how O’Malley–the person seemingly in the best position to primary Hillary (really?)–doesn’t have the donor base or the liberal roots to challenge Hillary from the left. In fact, he wrote that O’Malley lacks a history of being a staunch liberal–and he has no issue to run to Hillary’s left. It’s quite a grim assessment; one that suggests that the only thing these four men could do is shape the debate. Yet, it will probably be a shift so minimal that these guys consider even tossing their hats in the ring at all.
Right now, Team Hillary made a huge blunder in not thinking that her email fiasco would have an impact with voters–it has. A majority of voters in key swing states say she’s dishonest. A good proportion of those voters also said that they’re less likely to vote for Hillary for president. Now, it’s still early; Hillary could recover. But that’s contingent on her campaign skills, which she lacks profoundly.
So, while this road trip is the beginning of a 19-month journey to Election Day 2016, we shall see if Hillary can overcome these various bumps in the road.
Last Note: Are the gender wars over Hillary at an end? The vast majority of voters said that Hillary being a woman has no impact on whether they will vote for her or not.
UPDATE: She's in Ohio, as you can tell by this security camera footage from Chipotle.