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The Frontrunner

Hillary’s Democratic challengers are likely to fall short.

Jun 2, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 36 • By JAY COST
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Former senator Jim Webb of Virginia and former governor Brian Schweitzer of Montana might attract the white working class, but the power of Bill Clinton to appeal to these voters cannot be overestimated. It is hard, too, to see how they would win over minority voters or raise substantial sums from wealthy Democrats.

What about Andrew Cuomo, governor of New York? He might raise substantial money, but who in the Clinton coalition would bolt for him? Ditto Governor Martin O’Malley of Maryland.

That leaves two primary concerns for Team Clinton. The first is Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick. As an African American, he would be a threat to Clinton with the black vote, which would virtually guarantee a real race. And he might be able to raise substantial money; it is no coincidence that in the last 26 years, Massachusetts has supplied 3 of the 10 nonincumbent major party nominees.

The other concern for Team Clinton would be an interactive effect amongst these candidates. Suppose, for instance, that Schweitzer, Patrick, and Warren all attracted significant support from their electoral bases, at Clinton’s expense. That scenario might be chaotic, and thus jeopardize Clinton’s path to the nomination. This would not be unprecedented in Democratic politics; something similar happened in 1976, 1988, and 1992, although in none of those instances was a candidate as strong a frontrunner as Clinton will probably be.

In the end, Clinton’s greatest advantage might be the continued political weakness of Obama. History is not on the side of the Democrats as they try to win the White House for a third consecutive term. A party has only done so once in the postwar era—in 1988, when Ronald Reagan’s job approval was in the mid-50s by Election Day. Currently, Obama’s is mired in the mid-40s. Yet Clinton has a personal reputation that might transcend Obama’s unpopularity, and she polls extremely well at the moment. So long as that continues, risk-averse Democrats of all demographic stripes might be inclined to put aside their internecine battle to prevent a Republican victory, something they all equally oppose.

None of this is to claim that Clinton is an objectively strong candidate. She manifestly is not; otherwise she would be president right now. But objectivity does not matter when you are battling for the nomination. Everything is relative to where your party stands in the public mind and where you stand in relation to the other candidates seeking nomination. Right now, both of these factors conspire to make Hillary Clinton the odds-on favorite for 2016.

Jay Cost is a staff writer at The Weekly Standard.

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