Archive for Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Standing up to party may help Hillary

June 20, 2006

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Although no presidential candidate wants to be booed by those who have always adored her, Sen. Hillary Clinton should be thrilled by the catcalls she's gotten recently from anti-war Democrats.

At this point, her unwillingness to support a movement in the party for a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq by year's end remains an intramural matter confined to the small circle of Americans obsessed with presidential politics more than two years before the election.

But the rift over the war with many of those who have been her strong supporters could develop into the kind of brouhaha that gets on the radar screen of most Americans.

If so, that could be a gift from on high for the former first lady's presidential candidacy, although any future return for her to the party orthodoxy might mitigate any gains.

She is the leading 2008 Democratic presidential candidate. While an open dispute over the purity of Clinton's liberal credentials might make her less attractive to some Democratic voters, her odds of winning the Democratic nomination would remain strong.

Yet, such a dispute might send a message to those currently less impressed with her as a potential president that she might not be the knee-jerk liberal many non-Democrats have thought.

Polls show her consistently losing to the two men, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who lead surveys among Republicans about their favorites for the GOP 2008 nomination.

That's because while she has strong support in public opinion polls among core Democrats - regardless of the recent incidents - Clinton is much less popular among Republicans and independents.

Mostly that is because her years in politics have stamped her in the mind of those voters as someone who favors big government programs and permissive social policies.

And, it appears, most Americans assume correctly that she has been in lockstep with the Democratic consensus in recent decades that has been reluctant to use U.S. military force overseas.

Recently, however, Sen. Clinton has split from the liberal Democratic pack. Although a frequent critic of President Bush's policy toward Iraq, she has refused to renounce her Senate vote authorizing the war. Nor has she been willing to support setting a year-end date for withdrawal of all U.S. troops, echoing Bush's argument that it would just create an incentive for insurgents to continue their attacks.

By comparison, 2004 Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry, who is considering running again in 2008, has said his vote for the war was a mistake. And he has called for bringing home the troops by year's end.

In a speech last week to the Take Back America conference in Washington, D.C., a gathering of liberal Democratic activists, Sen. Clinton was booed and hissed for her Iraq position.

She was not among the potential 2008 Democratic candidates who chose to speak at a similar meeting of national activists in Las Vegas a few days earlier organized by the Daily Kos, the most popular liberal Web site.

When asked if Clinton was popular with such activists, Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, the founder of the Web site and a leading voice among anti-war Democrats, told the New York Times, "Oh my God, no way."

Taking on the anti-war left within her own party to show her independence would be taking a page from her husband's 1992 playbook. Bill Clinton made a point of criticizing Jesse Jackson, the onetime presidential candidate and then the de facto leader of black America, as a signal to middle-class whites that he was a "different" Democrat.

The strategy worked since Bill Clinton retained the vast, vast majority of African-American voters that November and did better among whites than any Democrat in decades.

President Clinton made his stand six months before the 1992 general election, after he was already assured of the Democratic nomination and while the country was paying attention. Sen. Clinton is now almost 30 months before the election, and presumably will have a bevy of opponents for the Democratic nomination.

Yet, refusing to kowtow to the priorities of anti-war Democrats could turn out to be a smart political move come November of 2008.

Peter A. Brown is the assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute and a former editorial columnist for the Orlando Sentinel.

Comments

xenophonschild 9 years, 2 months ago

Go get'em, Hillary. For better or worse, we're stuck in Iraq and have to see it through. Maybe our troops can pull Bush's can out of the fire, although the divisions between Shiite/Sunnis seem to become more onerous and deadly.

We need to go after white males who dislike Hillary because she's a woman and give them an opportunity to see what a wonderful, competent president she will be.

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