Monday, February 11, 2008

Hillary's Electiblity Argument

Chris Cillizza just went up with a post based on a conference call with Hillary's pollster/strategist Mark Penn on the issue of Hillary's superior "electiblity." Here's the nub of Penn's argument:

    "The Republican attack machine redefines the Democratic candidate," said Penn, pointing out that Vice President Al Gore and Sen. John Kerry (Mass.) both felt the sting of the GOP efforts during their respective national bids. Penn added that while Clinton is well known in national circles, Obama is less so -- a lack of name recognition that leaves the Illinois senator open to being defined by the Republican nominee. "Hillary has withstood this process and this will make a tremendous difference if she is the nominee," he said.
Also, she is allegedly superior on the issue of national security.
    Nominating Clinton would "block [Republicans] from playing the national security card," argued Penn, adding that Republicans have already begun to attack Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) on his foreign policy credentials. (In an interview yesterday with Fox New Channel's Chris Wallace, President George W. Bush had this to say of Obama's foreign policy bona fides: "I certainly don't know what he believes in.")
Cillizza summarizes the argument thusly:
    The central difference in the electability appeals by the two campaigns is temporal.

    The Obama campaign argues that the way to best understand who is the more electable is to look at current polling and past results to see who leads the likely Republican nominee and who is better able to lure crucial independents to the Democratic cause. The present is what matters, says Obama.

    For Clinton, it's the future that's the issue. Sure, they argue, Obama may be ahead right now, but Republicans have only begun to define him, a process that would strip away much of his independent support and leave him on the losing end of a race against McCain.

Really, I must put the blog down and get back to grading. But a few points first.

First, national security. Hillary's argument for neutralizing McCain on national security is that she was for the Iraq Use of Force resolution before she was against it. Seems to me that Dems have tried that argument before. Let me look up how that went and get back to you.

As far as Hillary "neutralizing" the attack machine, by what measure? A year ago Harris Interactive found that fully 50% of Americans would not vote for Hillary under any circumstances. This despite pluralities that approve of her track record. Why? Because of the neutralized Republican Attack Machine. Hillary hasn't neutralized it; she's merely found two venues (New York State and the Democratic Primary) where it doesn't have much sway.

Fact is, there are two Hillary Clinton's in the race. There is the cautious consensus-building centrist she has been in the Senate, and there is the shrill, child-emancipatin', Tammy-Wynett-bashin', Bubba-enablin', hyper-ambitious caricature drawn by the attack machine. The fact that the second Hillary remains in this race is big trouble for the first Hillary. And it's a problem generated entirely by the attack machine she has supposedly neutralized.

The argument really shouldn't be temporal, but geographic. Because of her negatives, Hillary constricts the electoral map. She will compete in all the swing states, but that's about it. Obama can compete in a broader array of states, particularly in the South. In a year when Dems will probably maintain an advantage in fundraising, a candidate who can force the Republican opponent to spend time in money in more states has a significant advantage.


Cleveland Carole Cohen 3C said...

"the shrill, child-emancipatin', Tammy-Wynett-bashin', Bubba-enablin', hyper-ambitious caricature drawn by the attack machine." Pho, you do have a way with words; I agree, the spin on electabiity doesn't hold water with me either. I'm just hoping Dems do not shoot themselves..and the foot again.