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Hillary as Frontrunner: Look at the Money, Not Polls

10:01 AM, Jan 31, 2014 • By JAY COST
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Another poll shows Hillary Clinton leading the pack of would-be Democratic nominees by an outsized margin. This one is courtesy of ABC News-Washington Post, which has her at 73 percent support among would-be Democratic voters—with Joe Biden trailing at just 12 percent.

clinton hillary

What to make of this?

Obviously, Hillary Clinton is the Democratic frontrunner. Even so, she was also in the lead at this point in the 2008 cycle, albeit not by as much. A Fox News poll from March, 2006 had her at 43 percent, with Al Gore, John Kerry, and John Edwards trailing her with about 11 percent each. Importantly, Obama was not even mentioned in that poll.

That sets the boundary for understanding these polls. At this point, it is mostly about name recognition. In 2008, Clinton was set against three politicians who had already run national campaigns, which probably explains her smaller share of the vote back then. This time, Joe Biden is the only other possible nominee with a national reputation. So, these polls probably say more about Biden's prospects than they do about Clinton's.

What matters more at this point in the cycle is access to money. Are the movers and shakers falling foursquare behind Clinton? Importantly, they did not in 2008, even as she enjoyed nice leads in the polls. This is one of the real reasons she lost last time. Clinton had substantial financial support, but she did not monopolize the big money donors. This is what enabled Obama to emerge from virtually nowhere to win Iowa in early 2008, then battle her for the nomination. The mythology of Obama 2008 is that the campaign was "people powered," which was the second part of the story. It was people-powered only after Obama raised the scratch to communicate with people. And by the way, the kind of money you need to run that sort of campaign does not come from small donors, at least not at first. It comes from a party's movers-and-shakers, those who can max out their contributions and then get a dozen friends and another dozen colleagues to do the same.

Public opinion, at this point, is essentially irrelevant in the race for the Democratic nomination. What matters above all else is access to cash. Will another Democratic gain access, as Obama did? If yes, then we will probably again have an interesting race. If no, then we probably will not. 

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