Saturday, July 08, 2006

Hillary Clinton's electability

James Carville makes a pretty convincing case that Hillary Clinton is indeed electable, challenging what has seemingly become conventional wisdom among bloggers and television pundits.

The idea that Clinton can't win is based on two faulty assumptions:

The Democratic base doesn't like Clinton, so she can't win the nomination

On the contrary, Clinton is very popular with the Democratic base, raising more money than anyone else by far, and polling high favorables among Democratic voters. She is unpopular with the netroots, a very tiny subset of the Democratic base, and one not very representative of the views of the Democratic base. The netroots is mainly made up of white urbanites and suburbanites, and are more likely to be students or professionals than the base as a whole.

The more powerful parts of the base are labor and African-Americans. Within these two Democratic groups, Clinton is very, very popular. And these are the groups that decide Democratic primaries. Clinton can be beaten, of course, but she has to be considered the frontrunner, with good reason. She's got the money, the name recognition, and the allegiance of the interest groups that count the most.

Clinton can't win a general election because she is such a polarizing figure

This contention is a little stronger, but it's not a sure thing either, not by a long shot. Carville points out that Clinton is considered to be a strong leader by 68% of Americans. So right off the bat she's doing well on an issue where Democrats have been weak in recent elections. Carville also points out that Clinton, unlike most Democrats, responds effectively to attacks from the opposition. Something that Kerry and Dukakis failed miserably at.

Sure, Clinton won't win many Republican votes. She'll even cause Republican voters to be more motivated than they would be otherwise, thus increasing turnout. But if the Republicans nominate a weak candidate like George Allen or Bill Frist, it won't be enough. Democrats hated George Bush with a lot more passion than Republicans can work up for Hillary Clinton, yet failed to beat him despite solid turnout. Elections are still won in the center. And among independents, she polls well enough to win.

I do think that Richardson, Warner, and Edwards are all superior candidates in a general election. But Republicans wishing for a Clinton candidacy should beware of what they ask for. She can certainly win, especially if Republicans fall prey to their own hubris and foist an out of the mainstream character on the voting public just because he's ideologically pure. Personally, if I was a Republican I'd be wanting John Kerry again. Or Wes Clark, who shows no aptitude whatsoever for campaigning and is not enough of an Eisenhower-type to be able to overcome it. Or Russ Feingold, the netroots darling who is too much of a gadfly to win.