Hillary Clinton is many things to many people. To some, she is a role model, a groundbreaking icon that women of all ages look up to and are proud of recognizing what she has accomplished. She is a woman who redefined the title of First Lady so that future spouses now have a range of options regarding how they wish to frame their powerful but unelected role when moving in to the White House. As a senator in a decidedly male legislative body, she has proven to be tough, dedicated, and knowledgeable about the issues. She has led on some issues, followed on others. But overall, she has received high marks from her Democratic colleagues and earned the grudging respect of many Republicans.
That’s the Hillary seen by about 50% of the voters. And the other 50%?
She is just short of evil incarnate. She is relentless in her partisanship, cruel, overly ambitious and willing to do what ever it takes to win. She is seen as having a one track mind; everything she does or says is geared toward getting herself elected President of the United States. She is also viewed as slippery, corrupt, cynical, ill-tempered, and a puppy kicker.
That last might be an exaggeration. But among Republicans and legions of independents, Hillary Clinton is the most hated woman in America, a polarizing and revolutionary figure at the same time and certainly one of the most fascinating characters in American politics today.
Is there anything that Hillary Clinton can do to change that image? Perhaps Clinton’s last stand in Ohio, Texas, Rhode Island, and Vermont will show some of those haters that the candidate possesses qualities that all of us hope our president will possess.
Americans admire bulldog tenacity in their politicians. And they hate quitters. If you can say nothing else about Hillary Clinton’s night, it is that she rose to a very steep challenge and fought through to victories in Rhode Island and Ohio, breaking the spell Obama had on the voters, stifling his momentum, and at least slowing his march to the nomination that seemed so inevitable just a few days ago.
It could very well be that on the threshold of the biggest night of Barack Obama’s life, Democratic voters drew in their breath and said “not yet” to the senator from Illinois. Nagging questions raised successfully by the Clinton campaign about Obama’s experience with a controversial ad as well as the appearance of the first chink in his squeaky clean armor — the result of a curious meeting between representatives of the Canadian consulate in Chicago and Obama’s top economic policy advisor. A press report suggested that the advisor, Austan Goolsbee, told the Canadians not to pay attention to the anti-NAFTA rhetoric from Obama because he was simply pandering to Ohio voters and that once in office, there would be few changes to the agreement.
Whether the story is accurate is not the issue. The Obama camp was slow off the mark and confused in their response. They denied such a meeting took place only to have a memo of the conversation leaked to the Associated Press proving that it did, in fact, occur. They denied the substance of the story but the memo suggested otherwise — at least to some extent.
In short, it was a stumble at absolutely the worst time for the campaign. Obama had tremendous momentum in Ohio. He was closing the gap on Clinton and seemed poised to once again pull off a big win. The NAFTA gaffe angered many Ohioans and probably made the difference for Clinton.
And then there was “the ad.” It’s now infamous portrayal of a phone ringing in the White House at 3:00 AM while showing pictures of cute kids fast asleep and a voice over asking who the voter wants answering that phone may have been a clumsy evocation of Lyndon Johnson’s “Daisy” ad (a child counting petals she is pulling off a flower morphing into a countdown to launch a nuclear missile), but nevertheless appears to have had an impact. This is especially true in hawkish Texas where Clinton arrested a slide and clawed her way back into the race. (As of midnight Eastern time, Texas is still too close to call).
There is no quit in Hillary Clinton. At a time when many Democrats were calling on her to pull out of the race in the name of party unity, she soldiered on, vowing to win Ohio and Texas to make her point that Democrats need a candidate that can win the big states. She has succeeded in Ohio and will at least come very close if not win in Texas.
A miracle? Not hardly. The delegate math is still grim for her in that Obama will almost certainly end the primary season ahead in pledged delegates. This will make it very difficult for the all important Super Delegates to rally to her side. Obama’s argument will be compelling; that he won more primaries and that key Democratic constituencies favor him. It will be an argument that will be difficult to counter.
All of this is in the future. For the moment, Clinton can claim a comeback while Obama will seek to regain his lost momentum. But hanging over his head is the prospect that his name will be dragged into the corruption trial of his long time friend, patron, and fund raiser Antoin “Tony” Rezko. His press conference yesterday, where both Rezko and the NAFTA gaffe were major topics, went very badly for the candidate. In the end, he stalked off the stage leaving reporters screaming questions in his wake.
Neither Rezko or the press conference had any effect on the races in Ohio and Texas. But the questions about his relationship with the long time Chicago “fixer” who is charged with 24 counts of fraud and mail fraud in connection with raising money for current Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich will only multiply as more information about Rezko and his cronies comes to light. Unless he can find a way to lance the boil and draw out the poison, he risks becoming inundated by the scandal to the point of distraction.
But Obama’s immediate need is to get back on the winning track. This he can do on Saturday at the Wyoming caucuses where he is expected to do well and next Tuesday’s Mississippi primary that he should win easily. But it is not likely that he can regain his “inevitable” tag quite yet.
That’s because Hillary Clinton refuses to allow it. She still has something to say about her own chances for victory. And given what she showed last night, it is premature to deny her the opportunity to make her case for the nomination.
Rick Moran blogs at Right Wing Nut House.