Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Will Senator Clinton's Rivals Ever Attack?

For the past several weeks now, various national media outlets and political figures have been ejaculating about Hillary Clinton's campaign skills and the consolidation of her early lead in the polls running up to the first Presidential primaries in January.

Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post sums it up:

It's official: Washington insiders believe Hillary Rodham Clinton will be the Democratic presidential nominee.

All of these stories have originated this very week. She has clearly gained a great deal of momentum, picking up endorsements and pundit praise while slowly adding to her lead in national polls over Barack Obama, John Edwards, and the rest of the field.

My question is, when will her rivals begin to really criticize her at her greatest point of weakness: the very insider support for which she has garnered so much positive attention?

A wide variety of polls consistently show American voters' dissatisfaction with the performance of government, both before and after the Democratic takeover of Congress. Here is one from Gallup released this week. On Election Day, in 2006, although many believe that dissatisfaction with the War in Iraq drove voters to elect a Democratic Congress, more voters cited corruption and ethics as more influential in their minds. The American people have little faith in the Federal Government and have consistently flocked to candidates running as "outsiders." For my whole life, one of the most common insults to hear on the campaign trail is when one candidate labels another "one of those Washington insiders." Voters, regardless of party affiliation, are largely disillusioned by the campaign circus and a money-driven electoral process.

Yet the links above point to the insider love inundating the Clinton campaign as a strength. True, her chief rivals for the Democratic Nomination, Barack Obama and John Edwards are running outsider campaigns. Both are taking up the mantle of change, and the message has resonated some amongst grassroots supporters. While the juxtaposition between Clinton the Insider vs. the Agents of Change seems to be clear to those that are following the campaign closely, Clinton's Democratic rivals have been largely timid about criticizing her as a representative of the Washington establishment that voters are so eager to rebuke. Sure, Edwards and Obama have alluded to some of the issues of the Clinton Administration during the 1990s: Hillary's failed healthcare initiative, NAFTA dissatisfaction, etc. Yet, a full-frontal assault on Hillary Clinton the Insider or Hillary Clinton the Shady Fundraiser do not seem to be forthcoming.

Obama, in particular, seems to be in a tough place because so much of his support has coalesced from his pledges not to engage in attack-based campaigning. Yet, Clinton's rivals are passing up on the chance to exploit her most glaring weakness with Democratic and Independent voters, instead waiting for her perceived "unlikability" to catch up to her.

It won't. At least not during primary season.

They had a golden opportunity to draw a distinction between Clinton the Insider and themselves after the Norman Hsu fund-raising scandal broke. Or after even more sensational details broke about the ties between the Clinton campaign and Hsu.

Those problematic disclosures, while still open as the case against Hsu develops, have largely slipped through the cracks, replaced by the above puff stories touting insider praise and endorsements from this week's news cycle.

So the question remains, will rival Democrats challenge Senator Clinton directly on this issue?

If they don't, and Clinton wins the nomination, you can certainly bet the Republicans will.


oyster said...

"So the question remains, will rival Democrats challenge Senator Clinton directly on this issue?"

Yes. There's been some all-too-oblique references during debates, but challenging her "directly" is what is needed here.

I'm confident Obama and Edwards will do so.

charlotte said...

And I'm confident she will handle them admirably. :)

N. Hanks said...

Very smart post! Linked to The Hankster. You might want to see Jackie Salit's article "Barack Obama: The Real Deal or Just Another Democrat?" in the current issue of the Neo-Independent. Keep up the good work!

PS - If you want to know what some independents in New York City think about the position taken by most pols in NYC re: Hillary and Obama, see the video on YouTube at hankstertube.... Let the People Decide!!!!

E said...

I'm glad you guys are confident. I get nervous. I don't know what they're waiting for.