Monday, August 25, 2008

Hillary's Convention Narrative

Long-time readers will recall that I blogged the presidential primaries like a man on fire.

I recall, earlier this year, as the Democratic race wore on, many commentators suggested that the party schism between the supporters of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama was
potentially fatal to Democratic Party hopes in the fall. I discounted such talk. Anger at nearly eight years of GOP rule would provide a central focal point binding the disparate left-wing factions together by the time of the national party conventions and beyond.

That scenario might have held, but with Barack Obama becoming the Democratic nominee, the passions of the "Hillraisers" haven't settled down; and the selection of Joe Biden as running-mate may have been the ultimate slap in the face, especially since Clinton apparently wasn't even vetted for the post (I remember all of the "unity" rallies now ... a waste for Obama, but a PR milestone for Hillary).

Well, it turns out that even if Hillary Clinton gives a bang-up send-off speech for Obama, her supporters my nurse enough grudges to defect from Democratic Party ranks anyway, with large numbers voting for John McCain in the general election. Top Democratic officials are already moving
to revise the party's presidential nomination process. All of this is combining for a perfect storm of self-immolation this year, especially with hopes of a bounce in polling trends dangerously deflating for the Obama-Biden ticket.

All of this prompts Rich Lowry to suggests that the dominant narrative this week in Denver will be Hillary Clinton's:

IT'S Hillary's convention. Not in the way she imagined it when the primary battle began - she's not the nominee making history and bidding to end the dread Bush years. That role has been usurped by Barack Obama.

But the convention narrative revolves around her in important ways.

It's not just because so much drama attaches to the question of how she and embittered husband Bill regard Obama, and not just because she and Bill are getting so much air time. Obama has two major challenges this week - and both are Hillary-centric.

First, Obama has to win over Hillary's voters from the primaries, only 52 percent of whom are now supporting him, according to the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll.

Second, he has to occupy the space on the political spectrum that Hillary carved out in the primaries - identifying himself with mainstream American values, demonstrating a toughness on foreign affairs and connecting with the working class with his economic policies. (If he's at a loss how to do any of it, perhaps Hillary can explain it over a shot and beer chaser.)

That Obama is still performing so poorly among Hillary voters makes the prominence he's given the Clintons look less like an abject capitulation and more like a strategic necessity. If the Clintons can deliver Hillary's voters, every minute devoted to them will have been worth it.

The Clintons, of course, are profoundly conflicted. They've long thought Obama will lose, but they can't betray that belief lest - should Obama actually fail in the fall - they get blamed, engendering the bitterness of half the party.
Lowry suggests that the Clintons are torn over all of this. They don't think Obama's electable, but they can't say it publicly, for fear of being blamed for a Democratic catastrophe.

There's no better outcome for the Clintons, of course. Hillary will become the odds-on Democratic frontrunner if McCain wins on November 4.

The Politico has more in its piece, "
Tensions Boil Between Obama-Clinton Camps."

Note that all of this is taking place during an electoral environment for 2008 seen as a slam-dunk Democratic year. For example, Bloomberg writes this morning, "
Democrats Begin Convention With Most Advantages Since Watergate."

today's polls aren't cooperating, partly because Hillary supporters are dragging down the numbers for the Democratic ticket.

The party needs that "
game changer," and they need it fast.