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Nobody But Hillary?

12:01 PM, Jun 27, 2014 • By JAY COST
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Interestingly, it was the exact opposite sentiment that helped force Clinton’s defeat 2008. Democrats saw themselves -- quite rightly -- as the overwhelming favorites that year. So, why play it safe with another Clinton? This year, the smart ones among them must recognize that winning a third term with an unpopular incumbent is a dodgy proposition, and so Clinton’s personal reputation is probably their best asset.

Will it work? It could. History does not really give us very many examples, but those they do provide offer at least a glimmer of hope.

In 1976 the Republican party sought a third consecutive term despite three pretty miserable years. Richard Nixon had resigned in disgrace; the economy was tanking; faith in government was at an all time low. Yet Gerald Ford nearly defeated Jimmy Carter that year, and indeed may very well have won if the campaign lasted another week. The election of 1976 remains a historical peculiarity in that respect; Ford had a personal integrity that was evident to voters, and was well known enough to escape blame for the Nixon years. Carter had to run an ephemeral, emotive campaign talking about change in general; it would have been absurd to lump Ford in with Nixon. And in the end, it was only the uniform support of the South that pushed the Georgian peanut farmer over the top.

In 2008, the Republicans again had to fight for a third term despite some pretty lousy years. To that end, they nominated John McCain. While his personal reputation was not as well-established as Clinton’s, it was just as (if not more) sterling. It was a hard proposition indeed to lump McCain in with Bush, especially as the former had been a frequent and vocal critic of the latter. And McCain played his independence to the hilt. His campaign slogan was “Country First” (the subtext being that he did not heed the dictates of any political party), and his selection of Sarah Palin, a fellow “maverick” who had fought the (Republican) powers that be in her state, underscored this theme. Of course, McCain still lost, by quite a bit. Even so, Obama only broke it open after the collapse of Lehman Brothers and AIG in September 2008. Prior to the start of the Democratic convention, the two were tied in the Gallup poll.

Again, in both instances, the incumbent party lost. Still, it is not hard to envision scenarios in which they could indeed have pulled it out.

Democrats talk a robust game about how demographic changes are swamping the Republican party and leading to a permanent, left-wing majority. But, if that comes, it is years away. In 2016, the election will come down to the same handful of states and voters that have determined the outcome for the last 20 or so years: Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and so on. Republicans remain competitive in all these states, as they all regularly feature statewide political leaders from both parties. Right now, Obama’s popularity is such that Democrats would struggle in all of them.

Hillary Clinton might offer them an easy way around that problem, which is probably her greatest strength as she gears up for another run at the White House. 

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