Will there be a happy ending for Democrats?

Business Times - 29 Feb 2008

Will there be a happy ending for Democrats?

Whoever wins the party's nomination won't have it easy against the McCainiacs in Nov


ONCE upon a time in the Pundit-Land of Washington, there lived the Presumptive Presidential Nominee of the Democratic Party, Queen Hillary Clinton.

The former First Lady, who gained much of her political experience while serving as an unofficial confidante of the president, Bill Clinton, was expected to preside over the Clinton Restoration, while facing only some weak opposition from marginal Democratic rivals and then rolling over the Republican opponent.

In fact, for a few months last year, the Presidential Race of 2002 was perceived by many Washington insiders as nothing more than the preparation for the crowning of Hillary, and the ushering in of the Clinton II Era, as they started to speculate not about who would be the next president but about who would be serving in the top positions in the Clinton II Administration.

Hence, according to the then-conventional wisdom, by the end of President Hillary Clinton's term in office (in 2016), an American born in 1990 would probably recall that during his or her lifetime, the White House was always occupied by either a Bush or a Clinton.

But after her opponent Barack Obama had won his ninth straight contest in Wisconsin and as Hillary Clinton prepares for the crucial Democratic primaries in Ohio and Texas, this 'she-has-the-nomination-locked-in-her-purse' scenario is beginning to sound more and more like a fairy-tale.

Or is it?

In the midst of the Obamania that seems to be sweeping America, old political hands in Washington are cautioning that one should not underestimate the political survival skills of the Clintonites aka the Comeback Kids.

And while the numbers don't look good for Hillary after Mr Obama seemed to have gained a slight edge over her in the number of pledged delegates (those elected in the primaries) and 'super-delegates' (those nominated by the party leaders), a very big win by Mrs Clinton in the delegate-rich Ohio and Texas on March 4 and perhaps a week later in Pennsylvania could tip the balance of power back in her favour.

In short, as they say in politics, it's not over - until it's over.

The Obama-Maniacs are portraying the Clintonites' comeback scenario as nothing more than wishful thinking. Indeed, the problems confronting Mrs Clinton are structural and have less to do at this stage with the possible changes in the management and quality of her campaigning in the coming primaries.

Since the first caucuses in Iowa, Mrs Clinton's strength among key electorate groups in her party has gradually been eroding. She lost her earlier edge among African-American voters - males and females - to Mr Obama (thanks, among other things, to remarks made by her husband that were construed as 'racist').

Opinion polls are also showing that Mr Obama was beating Mrs Clinton among white male voters as well as among young and college-educated white males and females.

And the results from Wisconsin, whose manufacturing-based economy has been experiencing a recession, indicate that Mr Obama has slowly but surely made inroads into two of Mrs Clinton's most important constituencies - blue-collar workers and women, who are expected to play a crucial role in determining the outcome of the primaries in Ohio.

Finally, Mr Obama seems to gaining more support among Hispanic voters, another traditional pro-Clinton electorate bloc who constitute an important voting group in Texas. As the joke goes, Mrs Clinton can secure her support only among one demographic group: White women over the age of 80.

Moreover, many of the 'super-delegates', who include most of the leaders of the Democratic party such as former presidential candidate Al Gore, have been telling reporters that they have been impressed by Mr Obama's political rise and his ability to draw the support of young voters and that they are concerned about Mrs Clinton's 'negatives', especially the fact that 49 per cent of American voters insist that they would never vote for her. Thus, they reason, it would make it very difficult for her to beat the presumptive Republican nominee, John McCain, in November.

At the same time, the young and charismatic Mr Obama, who unlike Mrs Clinton, had opposed the Iraq War from the beginning, has a very good chance of winning the presidential race by portraying himself as the agent of 'change' and by depicting Mr McCain as an extension - and an older one at that - of George W Bush.

The Democratic Party's elders also want to ensure that the clash between the Clintonites and the Obama-Maniacs doesn't spill over into the national convention in Denver and turn into a bloody floor fight that would all but secure the election of Mr McCain.

Hence if Mrs Clinton fails to win impressive victories in Ohio and Texas - measured by a more than 10 per cent lead over her opponent - she would face enormous pressure to withdraw from the race and allow Mr Obama to prepare for the presidential election.

Mrs Clinton and her aides have clearly exhibited some signs of desperation. They have accused Mr Obama of 'plagiarism' for repeating in speeches comments made by one of his close political allies and have tried to suggest that Mr Obama is surrounded by 'anti-Israeli' foreign policy aides.

And in addition to several shake-ups in the management of Mrs Clinton's campaign, some of her big donors have accused her of wasting funds.

At the same time, there are also some indications of a backlash against Mr Obama in the media, where many pundits are now starting to ask whether there is any substance behind his bombastic rhetoric of 'change'. While this backlash might be coming too late as far as Mrs Clinton is concerned, it could have an impact if and when the Obama-Maniacs face the McCainiacs in November.

Copyright © 2007 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. All rights reserved.


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