A down­hill slide for Hil­lary?

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - Don­ald Lam­bro

Some Democrats are be­gin­ning to doubt Sen. Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton’s electabil­ity in 2008 and are say­ing so pub­licly for the first time.

The New York lib­eral, who is far ahead of her ri­vals for the Demo­cratic nom­i­na­tion in all the polls, is the most po­lar­iz­ing fig­ure in Amer­i­can pol­i­tics. Half the vot­ers polled say they would sup­port her if, as ex­pected, she be­comes a can­di­date, but the other half says they couldn’t vote for her un­der any cir­cum­stances.

Her in­abil­ity to reach out to more mod­er­ate vot­ers wor­ries Democrats who think ‘08 is their year to win back the White House if their party picks a can­di­date who can ap­peal to a broader elec­torate. Some think she has al­ready “peaked too soon” and will grad­u­ally see her sup­port erode. “Hil­lary Clin­ton is go­ing to be a for­mi­da­ble op­po­nent be­cause she is able to raise more money. But does that make you a win­ner? Ask Howard Dean. He was rais­ing more money than you can imag­ine but ended up do­ing poorly in ‘04,” said for­mer Iowa Demo­cratic chair­man Rob Tully.

“In the early states like Iowa and New Hamp­shire, Democrats re­ally look at electabil­ity and quite frankly she is run­ning against her­self,” said Mr. Tully, a vet­eran party oper­a­tive who has just stepped down from the chair­man­ship. “She’s got name recog­ni­tion, pop­u­lar­ity among Democrats, but the test will be whether she can beat the im­age prob­lem, the per­cep­tion out there that she is not electable among the gen­eral elec­torate,” he told me.

Electabil­ity, he said, “is the big is­sue out here” among Iowa Democrats who will hold the na­tion’s first can­di­date cau­cuses in Jan­uary of ‘08. “Quite frankly, the Democrats, as we saw in Bill Clin­ton’s nom­i­na­tion in ‘92, they do not want to let this chance slip by in 2008 when we think we have a great op­por­tu­nity to win back the pres­i­dency. Iowa Democrats are go­ing to con­cen­trate on get­ting the best can­di­date we can get elected.”

Mr. Tully’s con­cerns have been raised by Democrats for months in private dis­cus­sions, but this is the first time a prom­i­nent of­fi­cial is will­ing to ad­dress it pub­licly and that could be Hil­lary’s un­do­ing.

Mrs. Clin­ton’s electabil­ity was one of the key weak­nesses in a na­tional WNBC/Marist poll re­leased Dec. 7 that found she “has much more con­vinc­ing to do among a gen­eral elec­torate that is di­vided over whether they want to see her in the race,” said sur­vey di­rec­tor Lee M. Miringoff.

“Most vot­ers feel her electabil­ity is not an is­sue in de­cid­ing their vote, al­though a sig­nif­i­cant pro­por­tion of Democrats voice at least some con­cern,” Mr. Miringoff said in an anal­y­sis of his find­ings.

Other Democrats ques­tion whether she has “grow­ing room” as a can­di­date, both in the pri­maries and the gen­eral elec­tion. “I think the ques­tion is, as Clin­ton con­tin­ues to grow her sup­port, has she al­ready topped off? Has she al­ready reached her max­i­mum level of sup­port in the Demo­cratic pri­maries?” asked Bud Jack­son, a Demo­cratic me­dia con­sul­tant.

Mr. Jack­son, who pro­duced a TV video tout­ing Illi­nois Sen. Barack Obama’s pos­si­ble can­di­dacy for the “Draft Obama” com­mit­tee, says that al­though he “is far less known than Hil­lary, he still has room to grow his sup­port.

“All th­ese can­di­dates who are not Hil­lary, if some of them drop out, as they will, many Democrats con­clude their sup­port will go to some­one other than Hil­lary,” he said.

The na­tional polls all show Hil­lary with a sig­nif­i­cant lead (39 per­cent in the Wash­ing­ton Post poll) over a large field of chal­lengers, with Mr. Obama in sec­ond place at 17 per­cent, for­mer North Carolina Sen. John Ed­wards at 12 per­cent and Al Gore at 10 per­cent.

But many Democrats dis­miss her cur­rent lead as “mostly name recog­ni­tion” and note how then-front-run­ner Mr. Dean’s ‘04 can­di­dacy im­ploded in Iowa. “Any Demo­crat who per­ceives them­selves as the front-run­ner is vul­ner­a­ble be­cause in a pri­mary any­thing can hap­pen and of­ten­times does,” said Ohio Demo­cratic Chair­man Chris Red­fern.

The early lineup in Iowa gives us an ad­vance peek at what can hap­pen to Hil­lary’s front-run­ner sta­tus when Democrats pre­pare to cau­cus a year from now. Mr. Ed­wards, not Hil­lary, leads the pack, fol­lowed by Iowa Gov. Tom Vil­sack, Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clin­ton in fourth place, Mr. Tully told me.

Mr. Ed­wards, who sees Iowa as Hil­lary’s un­do­ing, has been build­ing his cam­paign or­ga­ni­za­tion there ever since he came in sec­ond to Sen. John Kerry in 2004. A win there would give him mo­men­tum go­ing into the Ne­vada cau­cuses on Jan. 19, 2008, where he has strong la­bor back­ing, and in New Hamp­shire three days later.

But if Mr. Obama gets into the race, “it’s go­ing to make it more dif­fi­cult for Clin­ton be­cause to be suc­cess­ful, she needs a large per­cent­age of the African-Amer­i­can vote and I’m not sure that would hap­pen with Barack in the race,” Mr. Tully said.

You can’t count Hil­lary out, of course, but the word among Democrats here is she has a lot of ob­sta­cles to over­come be­fore she can be­come her party’s nom­i­nee.

Don­ald Lam­bro, chief po­lit­i­cal correspondent of The Wash­ing­ton Times, is a na­tion­ally syn­di­cated colum­nist.

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