Clinton, Electability, and the Doomsday Scenario
Tomorrow night at 9:00 p.m. is the Democratic presidential forum at Drexel University, to be broadcast by MSNBC. Analysts are saying that this is an important opportunity for Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) and former senator John Edwards (D-NC) to do something -- anything -- to break the momentum of Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY), if they are to get back into the race. There is also a suggestion out there that it is time to explicitly raise the question of Clinton's electability in the general election. Get a load of this quote from Democratic strategist Donna Brazile in the Philadelphia Inquirer (emphasis added):
The other potential vulnerability [in addition to Iran] concerns Clinton's electability, a main worry of some Democrats as they contemplate her as nominee. In any number of polls, more than 40 percent of voters say they view her unfavorably.
For the rest of the Democratic field, the problem has been how to raise the electability issue without sounding sexist - or without seeming to validate Republican attacks against the Clintons over the years.
To some degree, Edwards has taken up the challenge the last few weeks; his supporters have voiced doubts about the prospects of a Clinton-led ticket. But having supporters do it is not the same as doing it yourself, said Donna Brazile, who managed Al Gore's 2000 campaign.
"I want to see if John Edwards will say to Hillary Clinton in front of everyone: 'You're not electable, and you know it, and you're going to hurt people down the ballot,'" said Brazile, who hasn't endorsed anyone. "It's time to stop whispering. It's getting to be midnight."
We all know the whispering she's talking about. Democratic political insiders are worrying that Clinton will not only fail in a presidential bid but hurt Democratic chances of increasing their hold on Congress.
However, that concern is apparently not widely shared by rank-and-file Democratic voters. A Rasmussen poll in early September showed that 75% of Democrats said Clinton was likely to win the general election if nominated, versus 73% for Edwards and 69% for Obama. Although Clinton's unfavorability rating is high, her favorability rating has steadily climbed and now outnumbers her unfavorability rating. A Gallup poll released on October 11th showed her favorability number above 50% for the first time since last May. Among Democrats only, her favorability in that poll was 81%, higher than Obama (70%) or Edwards (69%).
Head-to-head matchups have tended to show Clinton leading the GOP front-runners, although not by as much as Edwards and (usually) Obama. All three have some liabilities as candidates, as well as advantages. Although there is room to worry about how well Clinton will do in the general election, there really aren't negative indicators solid enough to say categorically that she is not electable or would harm down-ticket races.
UPDATE: After I wrote the above, I came across this post by Markos Moulitsas this afternoon, indicating that he is coming around on the question of Clinton's electability:
The polls don't lie -- the more people see of Hillary, the more they like her. ... I expected Hillary's numbers to drop as people became better acquainted with Obama, Edwards, Richardson, and some of the others. But in fact, the opposite has happened.
What I'm seeing is lots of people take a look at HIllary, then say, "Why was it that I hated her again?" The right-wing press told everyone for so long that they hated Clinton, that people simply assumed they did. When they see her, they're no longer so sure.
On that same vein, I recently talked to a federal candidate in a tough, red-leaning state. I asked the candidate if Hillary would make for a more difficult race. A year ago, the universal answer was "yes". But this time, this candidate said, "You'd think so, but I'm no longer so sure. I'm hearing a lot from my constituents, 'I used to hate Hillary, but...'"
On the merits, I would put Hillary fourth on my list. But I don't think she's an electoral disaster in the making. In fact, seeing the sheer effectiveness of her campaign machine -- it truly is a well-oiled machine -- I feel pretty confident that she'd win the White House and win it BIG.