I can understand the passive aggressive shots that Hillary Clinton is taking against Obama. She wants to establish a separate identity and win over some people who aren’t Obama fans. That is normal, but the timing is off. Vice President George H. W. Bush took a similar passive-aggressive shot at President Reagan with his “kinder and gentler nation” comment. Who was being unkind and harsh? The difference was that Bush made his comment after he had secured the nomination. If she gets the Democratic nomination, Clinton will have months to draw distinctions between herself and Obama. Her first Obama problem is going to come in the nominating contest.
Barring some horrible eventuality that will have us all wishing for death, the overwhelming majority of the voters in the Democratic presidential nominating contest are going to be people who approve of Obama , and many of them will have a strong emotional stake in their approval of Obama. The main chance for primary opponents of Clinton is convince those Obama-approving voters that a vote against Clinton is somehow a vote for Obama. Clinton’s opponents need to paint her as the more hawkish and connected-to-the-rich candidate within America’s more dovish and redistributionist party.
Jamelle Bouie argues that there are not enough self-identified liberals to deny Clinton the nomination. He is right. Clinton can’t be beaten by an opponent whose demographic base is made up of white upper middle-class liberals and the most left-wing activist college students. A version of the Howard Dean campaign led by Elizabeth Warren isn’t going to get it done. Any Clinton opponent is going to need support from other elements of the Democratic primary electorate.
The reaction to her book tour indicates that Clinton’s approval from the middle of the electorate is soft. The experience of 2008 indicates that her support from African Americans is soft. I don’t think it is any kind of lock that she wins quite the same margins among Latinos and working-class whites as she did in 2008.
It is very unlikely that any Clinton opponent will win Obama-sized margins among African-Americans in the 2008 primaries, it is possible to imagine a somewhat different demographic coalition that rejects Clinton as the candidate of perpetual war in Afghanistan who has been bought by the rich who pay her huge sums as a down payment for favors from a future Clinton administration.
This wouldn’t be easy as it would also have to involve some other candidate standing up as the true heir of all that is best in the Obama administration, and no one candidate is well positioned to both make the case against Clinton and make a plausible claim to be more pro-Obama than Obama’s first secretary of state. Lots of people can do the first, but I only see only Biden as able to do the second. Maybe someone else will emerge.
Hillary Clinton is not a great candidate like Reagan, Obama or her husband. If she had been a great candidate, she would not have lost in 2008 given her initial advantages in fundraising and institutional support. She seems more on the level of a Mitt Romney, Al Gore, Jimmy Carter, John McCain and George H. W. Bush. These kinds of candidates often win the nomination and sometimes win the presidency. Like Obama said, she is “likeable enough”. She is everything enough. But she is not unbeatable – even at the nominating stage.