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March 10, 2008

Will Hillary Clinton Take the Democratic Party Down With Her?


Perhaps the biggest question not being asked right now among Democrats isn’t whether Hillary Clinton can win the presidency, but whether she’ll hurt her own party’s chances nationwide in seeking to do so.


Over the weekend – as Barack Obama won the Wyoming caucus – an unnamed Clinton aide said that Obama’s wins have only come in states where they drink lattes and care more about their feelings than real issues. This might be news to the same people in Wyoming who supported Obama over the weekend, and also made their at-large congressional seat competitive in 2006.


In fact, much of the West, where a new breed of Democrats with a libertarian streak helped their party seize control of Congress two years ago, is now – according to this unnamed Clinton aide – rife with latte-drinkers who care mostly about their feelings. Some of them, like Sen. Jon Tester, who narrowly defeated Conrad Burns in Montana, are undeclared superdelegates.


Clinton’s approach to winning seems built on what has been a standard Democratic strategy – win New England and the West Coast, pick up a handful of Great Lakes states and maybe poach Florida. It writes off a great swatch of the American landscape as unwinnable.


The weekend’s comments have been mirrored all along by Clinton aides and supporters. Early in the contest – in a comment that led progressive uber-blogger Markos “Kos” Moulitsas to dub it the “Insult 40 States” strategy – a Clinton aide said that aside from Illinois, Obama hadn’t won any important contests. Voters in places like Virginia, Oklahoma and Tester’s Montana might today be alarmed to learn that the Clinton camp finds their nominating contests unimportant.


Some of this is no doubt a very common-sense approach to denigrating your opponent’s successes while playing up your own. The Clinton camp has said that it is best positioned to win the big, delegate-rich states, but does its party damage by writing off the states where Obama has won.


This is bad for a couple of reasons.


The first is that, in terms of available resources, the Democratic Party is this year much better positioned than the Republicans. It has huge advantages in raising money, an utterly unpopular outgoing presidency that will cling to the GOP nominee like a rotting fish, and also a party being rebuilt on Howard Dean’s 50-state strategy, which has un-written-off those states previously assumed lost to Republicans.


Writing those states off, yet again, fails to take advantage of that. An Obama campaign that hopes to make as many states as possible competitive would siphon off valuable Republican resources for states just to keep them turned red.


It also hurts down-ticket candidates – you know, the ones who helped give Democrats majorities in both houses of Congress. This will be the first re-election cycle for some of them, and winning re-election the first time is typically considered the hardest one. Whether the top of the ticket provides them with coattails or actually drags them down is a critical question Democrats should ask themselves.


Last week, much of the nation’s punditocracy focused for a day or so on comments made by Obama’s chief foreign policy adviser, Samantha Power. Power, in an interview with an Irish journalist, called Clinton a monster and said she’d do anything to win.


Naturally, she was forced to step down for her moment of candor. No one stopped to ask whether the statement was correct in either reality or practice, and – more importantly – if there was any thought in the Clinton campaign as to whether her strategy to win wouldn’t also throw the rest of the party under the bus.


© 2008 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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