New York Senator and former First Lady Hillary Clinton has officially kicked off her quest for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination. In typical, calculating Clinton style, she chose to make her announcement via her Web site on January 20 — exactly two years from the day when the next president will take office.
Ms. Clinton was first elected to the Senate in 2000 and was subsequently reelected last November, each time by an overwhelming margin. She has never been seriously challenged in a primary or general election. She is currently the front runner and would seem to have the inside track to the nomination. However, she will probably have to moderate a bit over the next year in order to prove that she could win a general election. If she can’t do this, the Democrats may seek a candidate with broader appeal.
Could Ms. Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign crash and burn in 2007? Similar things have happened before. Off the top of my head, I can think of at least two presidential campaigns that officially began and ended in the year before the election — Gary Hart in 1987 (although he futilely attempted to restart his campaign later that year) and Dan Quayle in 1999.
I see a distinct possibility that Ms. Clinton’s campaign could indeed implode before the end of this year. Now that she’s announced her candidacy, Democrats will begin to take a serious look at her. Even before her announcement, she was starting to lose some ground in the polls. And that’s not supposed to happen to any candidate until after he or she announces. Yes, she’ll probably collect the most money of any of the potential Democratic contenders during the first three-quarters of this year, but that alone will not save her. Ask Howard Dean. If she sees the handwriting on the wall in October or November, I believe she will pull the plug quickly. She’s too proud to risk the humiliation of being drubbed in the primaries.
The problem with Hillary Clinton is that more and more Democrats are starting to question her ability to win in the general election, even against the nominee of an unpopular Republican Party. I keep hearing the word ‘polarizing’ coming from the mouths of many Democrats when they are asked about their opinion of her. That characteristic might be inconsequential in a state or district in which one party dominates, but it usually proves disastrous in a general election for President of the United States. Her candidacy could bring out the evangelicals in droves for the Republicans even more so than Kerry’s did in 2004. But, more importantly, she could turn off independent voters and drive them to the GOP candidate. Democrats have no desire to extend their presidential losing streak to three and therefore match the Carter-Mondale-Dukakis debacle of the 1980’s.
Barack Obama would seem to be the main threat to her right now. However, even if his popularity soon fades, Ms. Clinton will still face some major challengers. As the stature of “red state” Democrats like John Edwards and Bill Richardson starts to rise, hers will likely diminish even further. Keep in mind that the last three Democrats to capture the White House came from what are now red states. The last time I checked, New York didn’t qualify. Right now, though, the nomination appears to be hers to lose.