I don’t know whether this is comedy or a sign that in rural America, Democrats really don’t have anyone to run in statewide races. There were rumors that Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) could become the next director of the CIA, current CIA Director Mike Pompeo would become secretary of state, and current Secretary of State Rex Tillerson would be asked to take a hike. Talk about some unwelcome Thanksgiving news if you’re Tillerson. The Trump White House has rejected the notion that this plan is in the works. Tillerson himself said he’s never considered leaving his current post. Still, that didn’t stop liberals from floating the idea that Chelsea Clinton could run in Arkansas.
Politico has a piece on this rather pie-in-the-sky idea. Hillary couldn’t do this because it could cause more heartburn between the progressive and establishment wings of the Democratic Party. Plus, she’s lost two presidential elections. She’s not an Arkansas native. She’s not Bill. And she still doesn’t have a scintilla of political skill. She won in deep blue New York in 2000 against a lightweight GOP candidate, Rick Lazio, which is not an accomplishment. In deep red Arkansas, it could be another defeat—plus she said she’s done running for office. For Bill, he would be a good shot, with the publication noting that even conservatives still like the former president. Yet, the current sexual harassment reckoning that’s gripping the nation has shut that door. It would have been a gift to the Right if he had run for the Senate, giving the Democrats a Roy Moore like headache of their own with Bill Clinton’s credible rape allegations. So, that leaves Chelsea:
She is an Arkansas native, even though she hasn’t lived there since she was 12. Sure, she lives in Manhattan now and lacks a Southern accent. But her mom bought her first house in New York two months before she launched her Senate bid, proving ZIP code ain’t nothing but a number. Carpetbagger charges are inevitable. But in the end, what matters is your knowledge and respect of the state and its voters. Chelsea shows no hint of cultural condescension toward her birthplace. For example, as an NBC reporter, she spotlighted efforts to preserve the folk music traditions of the city of Mountain View in the Ozarks.
We all know she’s gearing up to run for something someday. She’s sharpened her political presence on Twitter. She’s released two books this year, the popular children’s history book “She Persisted” and the less noticed but weightier “Governing Global Health: Who Runs the World and Why?” in which she and a global public health professor explore how effective international organizations have been at combating infectious diseases.
...Chelsea typically bats away questions about launching a campaign, in a March interview with Variety she caveated, “If someone steps down or something changes, I’ll then ask and answer those questions at that time.” Clearly, she’s waiting for someone to step down.
Earlier reporting suggests that someone is Rep. Nita Lowey, who represents the suburban Westchester County district of New York state where Bill and Hillary live. The 80-year-old Lowey has indicated she plans to run for a 16th term next year. But the seat will eventually have to open up, and maybe Chelsea will have the inside track to succeed her. Still, one can’t assume she’d be a lock, and a defeat in her backyard could kill her political career before it had a chance to take off.
Chelsea will get a similarly rude welcome into any race. But by entering the Arkansas contest, she would at least start her politician life with exceedingly low expectations. That would give her the opportunity to establish her own political persona, hone her stump skills and prove she can beat back the inevitable Clinton family conspiracy theories without the pressure of risking her entire political career on her first race. Even if she lost, by running respectably and helping get the state party off the mat, she’d get credit for beating the spread.
If so, she’d be following in her father’s footsteps. He lost his first campaign, an audacious attempt for a U.S. House seat at 27. “Even if I didn’t win,” Bill recalled in his autobiography, “if I made a good showing I didn’t think it would hurt me in any future campaigns I might undertake.” While Chelsea wouldn’t necessarily be able to run in Arkansas twice, she could lick her wounds in New York and run there later; few Democrats up north would penalize her for trying to paint Arkansas blue. And in the best of scenarios, Republicans would nominate a fringe character whom Chelsea could actually beat.
Arkansas is inhospitable territory for any Democrat. Therefore, the state party has little to lose by turning to Chelsea, and Chelsea has little to lose by returning home.
Okay—well, that sounds like an equally strong argument for her to sit this one out. For starters, it seems the Cotton-Pompeo-Tillerson trade is off the table, as tax reform has become the action item for the Trump administration. Second, it seems Chelsea already has a safe seat to take over in Lowey’s 17th district in deep blue New York. Also, let's not say that just because Bill had a couple of failed elections—he also lost in his 1980 gubernatorial re-elect—before sustained electoral success, is something that could happen with Chelsea in an Arkansas Senate race. That was a long time ago. Parties have changed. Voters change. The partisan divide has surely changed. Also, circling back to the fact that this shift looks dead, Clinton would be facing off against Cotton. There’s no way he would lose that hypothetical match-up.
Even in publications that are not 100 percent political, like Vanity Fair, there are kernels of truth. T.A. Frank warned about making Chelsea Clinton into something of the second coming because political dynasties tend to blow up their party in the long term. The Clintons did that to the Democrats in 2016. Frank noted the decreasing stock value of such a member running for office in succeeding order. Just look at the Bush family; they're penning its closing chapter. Social media expansion is not a sign of anything concerning political skill or political readiness. If anything, it still shows that Democrats have a weak bench. For Republicans, well, if they don’t work on a) passing legislation; and b) finding candidates who aren’t God awful, then we’re going to be in the hurt box next year and beyond. For now, Chelsea Clinton for Senate in Arkansas seems like a stretch—a very big one. Hillary lost to Trump in that state by 27 points; she couldn't even break 35 percent of the vote there. We shouldn't expect Chelsea to do any better.