Hillary Is In No Rush

The conventional wisdom is that Hillary Clinton will make her announcement that she is trying for a second time to become the Democratic nominee for president sometime in 2015.  She will then go on to easily get nominated, and  coast to a solid victory in the 2016 general election against any Republican nominee.

Clinton’s presumed path to victory relies on a number of factors, including  that her candidacy will enable Democrats to excite another key element of their  base -- female voters, particularly single women, much as Obama did in 2008 and 2012 with African American voters. If she runs, she will have no serious opposition, unlike in 2008, when she was heavily favored, but led Obama in the year before the primaries began (2007) by only 10-15 points, not the roughly 50-point lead she now holds over any potential opponents for the nomination. So too, Obama , even while trailing, represented a real threat to Clinton, with his ability to pull away black voters, and even women once he was endorsed by Oprah Winfrey. Obama also appealed to the anti-war left of the Democratic Party due to his early opposition to the Iraq war, which Clinton had supported as a senator. One study has calculated that  Winfrey’s support may have shifted a million votes in the tight Democratic nominating contest from Clinton to Obama, undoubtedly the decisive factor, if the numbers are even close to accurate.

With no serious opposition this time, Clinton’s already established national fundraising base, plus what she can absorb from the Obama campaign and DNC apparatus in terms of voter targeting and online fundraising, will enable her to fire away at any of her potential GOP opponents from the start of  the campaign season. If any Republican candidate catches fire and begins to emerge in the early primaries, negative attacks and a character assassination effort can be financed, similar to what Obama’s campaign did to Mitt Romney in the spring of 2012. Clinton, in essence, will have all the fundraising and organizational advantages normally associated with an incumbent running for re-election.

Clinton is well-known to voters, and seems less divisive as a candidate this time around. Bill Clinton has struggled to restore some dignity to his name, achieved through his “work” with the Clinton Global Initiative and the Clinton Foundation, whatever they may actually do. The Clintons will welcome a grandchild into the world later in the year, a great send-off to Hillary’s campaign if her goal is to help soften her image a bit. All the $200,000 and up speeches by the two Clintons have reconnected both of them to a very wealthy donor base, among both individuals, and corporations seeking to cement relationships with the likely next president.

There is one other major reason for delaying any announcement that her candidacy is official.  Her national rollout campaign tour, disguised as a book tour, fell flat and at times proved embarrassing. Clinton seemed tone deaf about her family’s financial fortunes when Bill left office and she seemed defensive about her record as secretary of State, in particular the Benghazi attacks of September 11, 2012, which spoiled an otherwise nearly risk-free tenure as America’s chief diplomat.

The rapid shift in public opinion on issues like gay marriage also poses a bit of a problem for Hillary, given Bill’s effort to get the Defense of Marriage Act passed. Hillary seems to be a very cautious  candidate and public official (unlike her husband), and  when events or social trends move quickly, she is not always lightning fast in turning with them.

Barack Obama seems to delay acting until Valerie Jarrett and other trusted political operatives tell him it is OK, and assure him that his image and political standing with the groups that matter to the Democratic Party will not be damaged. There are blue groups and red groups, and never the two shall meet, regardless of the lofty rhetoric from Obama’s keynote address to the 2004 Democratic National Convention. Hillary, on the other hand,  seems to be more interested in  wanting a poll taken before she decides to shift her message from the one she adopted after prior polling.

Clinton’s caution may serve her well if any of the potential alternative contenders for the nomination are waiting for some major mistake or catastrophic gaffe to derail her. Her poll numbers still show her with a comfortable lead over any potential Republican challenger (Paul Ryan comes the closest, though he is more than 6 points behind in a head-to-head race).  Clinton held larger leads over Republican candidates earlier in the year before her book launch, which reflects a fact that became evident in the 2007-2008 campaign -- when she is more visible, she becomes more of a lightning rod and a bit less appealing as a candidate.