Clinton v. Obama: how it breaks down for Democrats (update) Posted by: McQ
on Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Very interesting Bloomberg article about the fears of Democrats concerning the party's two front runners. The comments are from a pro-Democratic focus group consisting of 11 Democrats from Philadelphia who were gathered together by Democratic pollster Peter Hart. The basics:
The participants were informed and enthusiastic about their party's prospects, had no interest in the Republicans or third-party candidates, and were about equally balanced between front-runners Clinton and Senator Barack Obama of Illinois.
After a couple of hours with the group, Hart turns to strengths and weaknesses. And it is here where the interesting stuff starts coming out. Concerning Obama:
Obama, they worried, can't win the nomination; voters aren't ready for an African-American president (a point expressed most directly by the two black women participants), and he may not be sufficiently experienced.
This seems to be a consistent theme, especially among blacks, which, frankly, amazes me. Not the experience factor. That's a pretty conventional criticism. But the idea that "voters aren't ready for an African-American president".
I don't happen to share that fear, but I think it may get confused with "he's not experienced enough" if Obama doesn't get the nomination. Andy Young was quoted as saying Obama just doesn't have the experience right now for the job and would most likely be a great candidate in 2016. Of course Young is backing the Clintons, but I think his point is both valid and the way many voters think of Obama at this time.
My biggest complaint about Obama is he hasn't the resume, yet, to run for president. As to his color, I wouldn't care if he was purple (or blue, like one of the former libertarian candidates).
Of course as the article points out, a couple of wins - Iowa and New Hampshire - could go a long way to mollifying that fear that America isn't ready for an African-American.
But where all this got interesting was when the talk turned to Clinton:
It was revealing, too, when Hart pushed them to envision these senators as leaders of the country or, as he put it, their ``boss.'' Obama, they say, would be inspirational, motivating, charismatic and compassionate. After praising Clinton's experience and intelligence, they say she would be demanding, difficult, maybe even a little scary.
Clinton is calculating and there's no denying that. She also has a problem connecting as she has a tendency toward aloofness and seeming coldness. And given the stories about her 8 years in the White House, "demanding, difficult and scary" seem to me to be mild descriptions of her personality. For some reason shrill creeps in there. All of those perceptions are accepted as "true" about Hillary Clinton and she's going to be hard pressed to change them (and have ample opportunity to demonstrate them - inadvertantly - during this long campaign).
Even strong Hillary supporters acknowledge the electorate's deep-seated concerns. ``She is walking a fine tightrope now, because she is such a divisive personality,'' says Lynda Connelly, a thoughtful 58-year-old Red Cross manager. She plans to vote for Clinton while fearing that, if elected, ``the right- wing noise machine is going to do everything it can to derail her.''
Heh ... I love that last line. The "right-wing noise machine" is going to have to work overtime to meet the standard the left-wing noise machine has set over the last few years. But Connelly is correct. Hillary provides exponentially much more fodder for her Republican opponent than does Obama. When one of the best opposition research teams in existence, Hillary Clinton's team, has to go back to a kindergarten paper as proof Obama has had designs on the presidency his whole life, well, there's not much there there, is there? As for Clinton, there are years and years and years of quotes, documents, video and books from which to draw and quarter her. If you don't think the right will do that, you haven't been tuned into the blood-sport politics has become.
So where does that leave these Democratic voters? Again, remember, they're not "anti-Hillary". However they are discussing strengths and weaknesses as they see them. How does it break out for them then?
After the session, Hart, who has done scores of these focus groups across America this year and directed major polls, summarized the challenges facing the front-runners.
``Obama fits the year in terms of aspirations and hopes,'' he says. ``When these voters talk about America today, they want a picture that almost cries out for Obama. But post-9/11, these voters may not be willing to take a chance. They need reassurance that Obama will be ready from Day One.''
Conversely, Clinton, in trying to get to the top of the mountain, Hart says, ``has only looked at one face of the mountain — her experience, the emphasis on strength and toughness. She hasn't recognized the other side of the mountain; she hasn't allowed voters to see who she is and her personal dimension.''
The reassurance that voters want from Obama is going to be very difficult for Obama to sell. And Hillary Clinton is going to do her level best, I promise, to emphasize his very evident lack of experience.
As for Clinton, her experience, in reality, isn't that much more than Obama's. True she was in and around the seat of power for 8 years, and she most assuredly acted in an advisory role during that time. But advising is a much different role, in terms of experience, than making and living with decisions. If you buy into the Clinton theory that being the First Lady is tantamount to governing experience, then you have to agree that other than a few years in the Senate, Laura Bush is equally as experienced. And with Bill recently taking the rap for the failed health care initiative, she has less experience than she claims.
In reality, what she has, in real experience, is one and a half terms as the junior senator from NY. So one term and some years is the real sum of the Obama/Clinton experience factor.
And now there's the fact that the Clinton campaign, that well-oiled and veteran organization, is faltering. Their reaction? The old tired-and-true: go negative:
After falling behind in the Iowa polls, Senator Clinton, who earlier condemned attacks by other Democrats, turned negative on Obama. Fair enough. Except her attacks were neither focused nor effective. This strategy raised more questions about her than Obama.
Now Bill Clinton would have handled this in a completely different manner. But this is Hillary's style. And it isn't going very well at the moment. Part of that reason is this:
And her campaign has a near-obsession with what it perceives as a hostile press. They were incensed at a New York Times story that reported skepticism about Hillary's contention that her proposal to overhaul health care would help a lot more people than the plan of her rival. The best advice to them: Get over it.
But they won't get over it. They can't get over it. They've built a campaign that is focused on countering anything they perceive as negative. And that "near-obsession" with a "hostile" press is nothing more than a reflection of Hillary's paranoia. That means that over a full campaign season, press relations are going to get rockier, not smoother, and that could have a profound effect on a Clinton candidacy.
Finally - the problem with the Clinton campaign right now is their plan has been shot to hell and they're in the middle of reacting to that reality. They figured on a coronation. What they've gotten is a heck of a fight, and the finish, as they expected, is not at all ordained:
The Clinton organization had a clear plan A: It envisioned the candidate, as the choice of the party establishment and natural heir to the presidency, to so dominate 2007 that she would be able to corner, not have to capture, the nomination. It worked perfectly for most of the year.
The strategy has imploded. In a similar situation, Bill Clinton would have changed plans on a dime — he could have gone from B to E during a rest stop.
Hillary has all the strengths cited by those Philadelphia Democrats and much more discipline than her husband. If she can't adjust and rise to this challenge, however, she may well finish third in the Iowa caucuses and lose to Obama in New Hampshire. In the past 30 years, no candidate has lost both these tests and won the nomination.
Clinton is well aware of the history, trust me. So what will happen now? Well, we'll get to see what she's made of, what type of a politician she really is, and whether or not she can head off the Obama train by reassuring voters instead of attempting to scare them into supporting her. And as the pressure builds, voters will get to see how she handles it.
Meanwhile, I'm sure the right-wing noise machine, in concert with some of the left-wing noise machine, will conspire to make life miserable for her. It should be fun.
UPDATE: And then there is this worry among Democrats concerning Clinton:
When Democrats worry about Hillary Clinton's electability, they focus on her re-energizing a depressed Republican base while demoralizing core Democratic activists, particularly those outraged about the Iraq war. A Nov. 26 Zogby poll actually shows her trailing the major Republican candidates, while John Edwards and Barack Obama defeat them.
But there's a further danger if Clinton is nominated, beyond losing a winnable election — that she'll prevail but then split the Democratic Party.
So the funny thing that always strikes me when the pejorative "noise machine" comes up, is that it is really just a synonym for other people talking about what’s going on, and expressing opinions. Apparently, the Left doesn’t like anyone but themselves being able to make noise, that is, to express their opinions. Tell me again about their being in favor of free speech?
The participants were informed and enthusiastic about their party’s prospects, had no interest in the Republicans or third-party candidates, and were about equally balanced between front-runners Clinton and Senator Barack Obama of Illinois
Oh, they just used the same people that CNN used for questions at the GOP-Youtube debate?