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.
On the other hand, the Clintons learn from mistakes and have the intelligence to speak thoughtfully about things when given the chance, as Hillary did in her conversation with Jeffrey Goldberg on foreign policy. Don’t expect to hear any more from Hillary about the family’s desperate poverty in 2001, nor her royal requirements for speaking engagements which may be tempered a bit.
That said, no one seems to be creeping up on Hillary. The rest of the potential field is likely the weakest collection offered up by either major party in decades. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo seems to have some of the “Hamlet”-type uncertainty about running that his father demonstrated, and is now engulfed in a largely unreported scandal. Naturally, the mainstream press seem much more interested in focusing on other scandals that Democratic operatives have created to target Republicans, including Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and Texas Governor Rick Perry, as well as the massive media overkill over the lane closures in Fort Lee, New Jersey, which Governor Chris Christie may have had nothing to do with.
Christie, Perry and Walker are all possible contenders for the GOP nomination, and the diversions hurt them in each case. Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley comes off as a lightweight, even for those who are not aware of his resemblance to the character Thomas Carcetti in the HBO series The Wire. Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren seems to have the ability to fire up the progressive base, but so far feigns total disinterest in running and seems to have little centrist appeal for a general election outside of Massachusetts. Bernie Sanders may run, and could carry Burlington and Middlebury, Vermont.
And then of course there is Vice President Biden, already two times a contender, if contender means he received some votes. Biden would begin serving as president at age 74 if he ran and won. Other than Harry Reid, Biden may be the Democrats’ worst offender in terms of an open-mouth problem. Of course Reid’s racist remarks, a pattern with him, seem to have attracted far less attention than those of Donald Sterling.
Finally, there is former Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer, who passed on a winnable run for the state’s open Senate seat but has expressed interest in a White House run. He has now reached the 1% polling level when his average polling score is rounded up to the next highest percent.
The odds of Hillary Clinton not running are very low. But because they are slightly higher than zero, some Democrats seem anxious to have her make if official that she is running. If she delays, and decides not to run, then the weak field now near the starting line will have less time to raise money and become nationally known. This, of course, is not Hillary’s concern. If she were actually thinking about not running, or likely not to, she would recognize the need to clear a path for others quickly, since having a weak Democratic nominee will improve GOP chances, even if the wide open Republican nominating process proves fractious.
Hillary is behaving exactly like a candidate who views herself as inevitable. Hence, there is no need to rush. Announcing her candidacy 6-12 months before Iowa would put her in the company of almost all candidates for the job over the last few decades in terms of announcement timing, and this time around, Hillary is not likely to allow her candidacy to be derailed by a surprising early defeat in Iowa, or New Hampshire, or South Carolina to some hot new outsider.
In fact, the Goldberg interview suggests the general election campaign is already underway, with Hillary trying to showcase that she would be a more muscular and engaged president than Obama in terms of managing foreign policy. She might even run to the right of one GOP contender, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul. Clinton is exhibiting the confidence of someone who does not expect to be threatened by someone running to her left, as happened in 2008, and polls of Democratic voters seem to bear this out this time around.
Democrats, even on the left, understand the strength of Hillary’s candidacy. Above all, they want to remain in power another four or eight years. Given the absence of any real fight on the Democratic side, it would be no shock if a fair number of Democrats voted in Republican primaries to try to get a weaker Republican nominated for the fall campaign.