A couple Thursdays ago, I offered up a hypothetical race
for Wisconsin governor. I'm a little disappointed no one commented on it, but that's life, you know? Anyway, I thought I'd talk a little bit about what I was getting at. So if you haven't, go back and read the original post
, then read on.
I'm sure some of you could tell what I was getting at immediately, but for those of you who couldn't, try switching all the party labels, Democrat for Republican and vice versa, and making it a race for the Presidency. The names are shuffled around a bit, but I gave you a clue in the false names I chose, Hal Quentin, Georgia Rush, and John McClintock (think: Hillary Clinton, George Bush, and John McCain).
I'm posing my question as a hypothetical because when you mention Hillary Clinton today, it evokes a strong, visceral reaction in a lot of people, and I wanted to get past that. But that visceral reaction in politics is quantifiable. It manifests itself in the unfavorable ratings politicians get. You can see Hillary Clinton's unfavorable rating in national polls at PollingReport.com
. The question I posed was:
Question: Is it possible for Georgia Rush to win, or are her unfavorables (43%) high enough to make it out of the question?
Georgia Rush is Hillary Clinton. The 43% unfavorable I gave Georgia Rush was an approximation. Some polls have Hillary higher, some lower. I listed a handful of real polls I figured were representative if not exact of a McCain-Clinton matchup in 2008. Clinton usually trails McCain (Hal Quentin in my example), earning in the high 30's or low 40's against him. You can also get the latest 2008 matchups for yourself at PollingReport.com
So there it is, Hillary Clinton's highest hurdle: a mid-forties unfavorable rating that comes from a sustained campaign by the Republican Noise Machine to make her unpalatable to the American people by hyping any potentially unpopular thing she says. But is it enough? Her unfavorable rating is
still lower than her favorable rating, and her favorable rating is over 50%.
When politicians with high unfavorable ratings run for office, they have a strategy of dealing with it. It's to drive up the unfavorables of their opponent. It's a strategy that involves spending lots of money usually, but Clinton will have that. Her fundraising prowess is truly extraordinary. As is her husband's.
She also comes with a handful of other positives that it's easy to overlook when everyone already has an opinion about her. First, she's a woman. A CBS poll
from February shows 92% to 5% Americans would vote for qualified woman for president while only 55% think America is ready for a woman to be president. That tells me that all the hemming and hawing about whether Americans would balk at Hillary Clinton because she's a woman is misplaced. Americans would
vote for a woman. They just think their neighbors won't.
And furthermore, the realistic possibility of the first female president would be a driving force for a lot of young women to become active supporters of a Hillary Clinton candidacy. We tell young girls they can grow up to be anything they want, even the president of the United States. But so far, it's appeared to be an empty promise. But now, finally, we have the ability to show that we mean it. A woman just well might be the next President. Don't underestimate the power of that narrative.
Another positive Clinton comes with, I suspect, is the memory among African-Americans of the man Toni Morrison called the "first black president"
. President Clinton left office with a great deal of support among African-Americans that I think is still there. If he asks for the support of African American leaders for his wife's presidential bid, he may find a receptive audience.
Still another positive is Hillary's experience as a member of two winning nation-wide presidential campaigns. Only a handful of other possible candidates can claim that. In fact there are three: Vice President Dick Cheney, former Vice President Al Gore, and Florida Governor Jeb Bush. If Hillary is not going up against any of them, this will be a big advantage for her. John Kerry and John Edwards both have experience in a narrowly losing campaign in 2004, while John McCain had experience with a campaign in 2000 where he lost in the primaries. Those are significant, certainly, but experience losing is not as good as experience winning.
Also, Clinton is a Democrat coming up on an eight-year-itch election where Republicans are in power. The American people often (though not always) switch parties after eight years: Eisenhower's eight years were followed by Kennedy's win in 1960. The Kennedy-Johnson 8-year period was ended by Nixon's victory in 1968. The Nixon-Ford 8-year era ended in Carter's victory in 1976. And Clinton's two terms were followed by George W. Bush. That's enough 8-year switches in the recent past to make one at least consider that being an out-party candidate in an open seat election at the eighth year might just be of help.
And there's another interesting phenomenon that's somewhat related, which is Bush fatigue and Clinton nostalgia, which should be reaching its zenith in 2008. In 2000, the year Bush came into the presidency, he clearly benefited from Clinton fatigue and Bush (the elder) nostalgia. Bush represented, to some people, a restoration of his father's regime. People thought to themselves, "Well, if he's anything like his father..." Last names do that to people. But that isn't the only thing they do. They also provide access to a network of donors, advisors, and other elected officials that remain connected to the family. Dynasties form fairly regularly in American politics. This is just the first time we've seen it so powerfully affecting both parties and at the top of the ticket.
I'm not writing all of this to indicate my support for Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination. In fact, I'm finding it increasingly difficult to see myself supporting anyone other than Senator Russ Feingold. But after fifty conversations with different people about how Hillary Clinton "can't win", I thought it might be a good idea to express here my gut feeling that she can indeed win because of the positives I listed.
But I do so with the caveat that her unfavorable rating is high, and I'd love to know whether it really is too
high. I don't have the data to prove it one way or the other, but I'm imagining that Nixon might have been in similar territory in 1968. And Gray Davis won re-election to the California governorship in 2002 despite what I expect were very high unfavorables (and a low job approval) that had him recalled from office just a few months later, but again, I don't have any numbers. I'm sure there are other examples of unpopular politicians finding a way to win. But I'm just a guy with a blog, a question, and a lack of data, so I'll ask my question again, rephrased:
Question: Is it possible for Hillary Clinton to win, or are her unfavorables (about 43%) high enough to make it out of the question? How high do her unfavorables have to be before she becomes a Democratic Katharine Harris?