Can Hillary really win?

So there I was on WAMC Public Radio’s Roundtable panel where I am every weekday morning at 9 a.m. It was the day after Hillary Clinton had declared her intention to run for president and people had a lot to say.

Hillary is a bit of a centrist — that is why she has a good, but not absolute, chance of winning the presidency. The whole idea is to capture the middle class. I love Senator Elizabeth Warren but she knows and I know that she is too far to the left to win a national election, at least now. Let’s try to remember that unlike the great New Yorker cartoon, there is a lot of country between Manhattan and San Francisco.

To understand what’s at play here, one has to understand voting patterns in the country. There are more Democrats and independents leaning Democratic in the United States than there are Republicans. If everyone of the Democratic persuasion were to vote, you’d have a Democratic president and Congress.

The problem is that not all natural Democrats vote. Listeners write in about whatever subject we are discussing on the Roundtable, so that morning we were, of course, talking about Hillary entering the race. The notes from the left started coming in. “I could never vote for her. She’s a tool of the corporate world” and on and on.

In each case, we asked the writer whether they would feel better with a Republican victory, allowing the Republican president to appoint more people to the Supreme Court. The bottom line is, if you are sitting in a house in the Berkshires or Hudson Valley pontificating about punishing a centrist candidate, it really doesn’t matter. What does matter is the fact that those who have the most to gain at the bottom rungs of society do not vote in the numbers that they have to in order to assure a Democratic victory. With that said, Barack Obama won twice despite the continuing and unremitting racist invective that has been heaped upon him. For Hillary’s part, she knows that if she is to win she will need the voting coalition that swept Obama into office. Rule number one for Hillary is to be supportive of Obama.

I knew a Democratic assemblyman in New York who had bad things to say about Bill Clinton in the post-Monica Lewinsky days. He said he wouldn’t vote for Clinton and he was swept from office. Democrats really resented his perfidy. Hillary cannot risk that, no matter how many people try to drive a wedge between her and Obama. Now it is Obama who is playing it safe, having his underling come out and say that the President is not endorsing at this time on the basis that there may be other people in the race.

That’s a bit of an enigma for me. It may be that Hillary doesn’t want his endorsement right now because his polls are low. That would be a huge mistake on her part. Perhaps he is still smarting about their original primary race and he thinks that Joe Biden or former Governor O’Malley may be coming in. In any case, I think this has been mishandled especially since a lot of Democrats still love the president.

It is clearly Hillary’s to lose. The Republicans are making fools of themselves, stepping all over one another. Hillary is the centrist candidate and in order to get through the primaries where members of the extreme right show up, the contenders are moving to the right as fast as they can. They will predictably move back to the center in the general election. Assuming that Bill Clinton keeps his mouth shut and doesn’t embarrass her, Hillary should prevail. She must have powerful memories, however, of Barack Obama, an obscure one-term senator, eating her lunch in her last great presidential primary. Like I said, it’s hers to lose.

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 4/20/15

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