Naked Politics Blogger
Hillary Clinton’s path to the Democratic nomination seemed clear this time 8 years ago. She had an advantage of over 20% in the opinion polls over a little known Senator from Illinois. She had a sophisticated and wide-ranging fundraising mechanism as well as a series of connections to highly influential and important senior Democratic Party officials thanks in large to her husbands successful presidency.
Unfortunately for Clinton that little known Senator was named Barack Obama. Not only did he turn out to be one of the most charismatic personalities and enchanting orators to ever make a run at the Presidency but he also single-handedly changed the way presidential candidates advertise and raise money forever.
It was bad luck to lose once from a very strong position, it would be incompetent to repeat the trick. Hilary Clinton is certainly not incompetent. She is a highly professional and vastly experienced candidate who will win the Democratic nomination.
My confidence in that predication is not unusual. Most political commentators agree that something very shocking will have to happen for Clinton not to win comfortably and already a major factor in the Republican nomination process is how each candidate will deal with her. The expectancy of her victory is certainly different to her last attempt. Her competitors this time round offer far less potential than Obama did. Currently, the only candidates polling over 2% in the race for the Democratic nomination are Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden. Although Sanders has caused some buzz recently, and some polls even show him closing the gap to single digits or edging ahead in the crucial New Hampshire primary, his polling in many other important states early in the race and his national rating means he is going to have to cause major upsets in lots of states. Biden has the advantage of being the sitting Vice-President, a factor that may increase in importance if Obama’s approval rating continues to strengthen. Both men, however, are over 70 and will therefore lack the surprise factor that Obama had 8 years ago, which added to the disadvantage they both have in sourcing large-scale funding that Clinton has done means a shock is highly unlikely.
Furthermore if Clinton’s lead over Obama was big, her lead over Sanders and Biden (who has not officially announced his candidacy yet) is colossal. She has an advantage in national polls of 36% over Sanders with Biden a further 7 points further back; a lead that is essentially impossible to overturn. Her apparently easy path to the nomination may, at first, seem to be a very positive thing. It will save her money and her campaign team will be more energised and fresher than if they had to have worked on a gruelling primary campaign. Even more crucially, plans can be made to target key areas in the presidential election far in advanced of whoever her Republican opponent will be can. She can already afford to edge into the centre ground of American politics, especially in the swing states, without fearing the backlash of potentially upsetting sections of the Democratic grassroots being so large it could take away the nomination.
However, the ease at which Clinton will canter through the nomination could have a detrimental effect on her chances in the Presidential Election. Her campaign mechanism may be fully focused on the general, with all the positives that brings, but it has not had the experience of a tough, tiring battle like the GOP candidate will have had. This is a serious problem.
A nomination campaign can harden a candidate against the scrutiny of the media; allows for the odd gaffe or bad news story to be swept away, and most importantly, gives a candidate the chance to find out what works and what does not. The first two factors are relevant to Clinton especially with the banana skin of the potentially incriminating emails that continue to grab headlines from her time as Secretary of State, but it is the last of these issues that may cause her the most difficulty. With little need to be especially creative or risky with her campaign strategy, she is at a disadvantage when it comes to potentially stumbling upon a slogan or poster that wins over the public (similar to the organic evolution of ‘Yes We Can’ that Barack Obama utilised in 2008) but more importantly the lack of necessity to calve out a clear theme of her campaign is a real danger.
On the Republican side some candidates are already centring their campaigns on certain issues – Donald Trump on immigration or Rand Paul on surveillance for instance – Clinton has no reason to focus her campaign. If you look at her website today she lists her ‘Four Fights’. This sounds promising but when you look at what they are you will see they are essentially just words without any real substance. They include building a better economy and strengthening American values. I would love to see a campaign that stated it wanted a weaker economy and American values to be destroyed. Having a broad campaign can work but it is difficult and requires a candidate of extraordinary political flexibility and insight. I am not saying Clinton is not that politician, but with so many other things in her favour, why risk it?
This does not mean that Clinton will lose the Presidential Election, indeed she is polling well at the moment and many would predict her winning the race to the White House quite easily. However, the lack of a serious challenger in the primary elections may allow for complacency or a lack of cohesion to her campaign compared to whoever triumphs from the Republican race. Whoever that person will be will have enormous momentum and will be battle hardened; two factors that are very important when it comes to a long presidential campaign. Hillary still has a lot of work to do.