Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Two Strikes
As the Democratic campaign shifts into its possible endgame, some numbers to ponder from a swing state:

The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey shows that Barack Obama (D) currently holds a seven-point advantage over John McCain (R), 46% to 39%. However, if the Democrats nominate Hillary Clinton, McCain will begin the race with a fourteen point advantage, 49% to 35%. National polling, updated daily, currently shows the same general trend with Obama currently performing better than Clinton in match-ups with McCain.

Sixty percent (60%) of Colorado voters currently have a favorable opinion of Obama while just 36% hold an unfavorable view.

McCain earns favorable reviews from 55% and less flattering assessments from 42%

Clinton is viewed favorably by 44% and unfavorably by 54%.

Emphasis mine. Think about this a minute: not only is that a mammoth 21 point swing for the Democrats--in a blue-trending swing state where they're holding the convention this summer--but the last set of numbers, Clinton's favorables and unfavorables, are probably impossible to move. This is an individual who's been on the national stage for the better part of two decades. That majority of Coloradans who dislike her, know exactly who it is they dislike and why.

It's certainly possible, perhaps likely, that Obama's favorables will come down; what's unlikely in the extreme is that Clinton's favorables would go up. Nominate her, and you write off the state, seriously imperil Democrats down the ballot (including a candidate for an open Senate seat), and allow Republicans to take money they'd otherwise have to spend trying to buck the tide in that state and redirect it to places like Wisconsin and Minnesota. And I find it very hard to believe that Colorado is the only state that fits this description.

Then there's the disturbing facts that have come to light about the one endeavor where Senator Clinton's claims of strength, experience, managerial acumen and judgment can be said with certainty to have been tested: her presidential campaign. As the backstory behind the firing of former campaign manager Patty Solis Doyle shows, the signs aren't particularly favorable:

Concerns about Solis Doyle have preoccupied many in the campaign for several years. Clinton insiders say that her campaign chairman, Terry McAuliffe, launched an unsuccessful bid to remove Solis Doyle while on vacation with the Clintons two years ago. Two top campaign officials told me that Maggie Williams, Hillary’s former chief of staff (and, as of Sunday, her campaign manager), also sought and failed to have Solis Doyle removed two years ago. Last year, some of Bill Clinton’s former advisers, known as the “White Boys,” lobbied to oust her, too.

But because of Solis Doyle’s proximity to Hillary Clinton, because she demonstrated the loyalty and discretion Clinton so prized, and because no one appeared capable of challenging Clinton’s presumed status as the Democratic nominee-in-waiting, nothing was done. “What Patti has that is real power is the unquestioned trust and confidence of the candidate,” Paul Begala, a veteran of Bill Clinton’s campaigns, explained in an on-the-record interview last year. “That makes her bulletproof.”
Rather than punish Solis Doyle or raise questions about her fitness to lead, Clinton chose her to manage the presidential campaign for reasons that should now be obvious: above all, Clinton prizes loyalty and discipline, and Solis Doyle demonstrated both traits, if little else. This suggests to me that for all the emphasis Clinton has placed on executive leadership in this campaign, her own approach is a lot closer to the current president’s than her supporters might like to admit.

Comparing any Democrat to George W. Bush isn't entirely fair. Whatever her flaws as a manager, I'm pretty certain Patty Solis Doyle has a lot more on the ball than, say, Alberto Gonzalez; if she didn't, I can't imagine anyone as smart as Hillary Clinton would have brought her into the inner circle to start with. But while loyalty in the abstract can be a plus, loyalty that blinds is not. (I might add that this kind of loyalty is probably seen more in dynastic groupings like the Clintons and Bushes--if for no other reason than that they persist over time, and sub-networks form within them--than fully merit-based political circles.) If Sen. Clinton truly were the cool-eyed, ready-on-Day-One manager she's presented herself as, I have trouble believing she could be in as much political trouble as she is today.

So the Democrats have an increasingly clear choice between a candidate who expands their electoral reach and has run a brilliant campaign, and another who alienates half the electorate--more, in key states like Colorado--from the jump, and has squandered what just a few months ago seemed like insurmountable advantages. All the Clintons have left, ironically enough, is faith in the loyalty of Democrats to a brand they remember with fondness. Here's hoping it isn't enough to save them this time.


Brian said...

I've been saying it for over 5 months- if Hillary gets the nom, a segment of people will come to the polls just to vote against her. No other dem candidate has that kind of hatred against them yet.

David said...

The question needs to be asked, loudly and repeatedly: would the Clintons prefer the Democrats to lose with her, and take damage in Congress, or win with Obama?

It's not that they'd answer it honestly, but that's really the key to understanding the campaign endgame.

Ted McDaniel said...

The situtation looks much the same here in NC. Many of my GOP friends are not happy about McCain, and have told me that they might vote for Obama against him. But if Hillary is the nominee, they will enthusiastically vote against her.

I don't believe that the Dems need to win southern states to win the election, but we need to be competetive in some of them, if for no other reason to force the GOP to put resources here. But I do thing Obama could pick off several southern states against McCain. They just don't like him that much here.

David said...

I have a theory that if Obama picks a guy like Webb and really turns him loose among white southerners, between Webb's appeal to cultural conservative/economic populist whites, Obama's ability to turn out African-Americans and his potential appeal to evangelicals who aren't 100 percent committed to the Republicans, he could win a few southern states.

By contrast, if it's McCain vs. Clinton and McCain picks someone like Pawlenty of Minnesota, he could win states in the upper Midwest like MN and Wisconsin.