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November 17, 2004
Powell vs Hillary: A Tactical Mistake

My friends at the New York Sun report that the Empire State GOP is pressing Colin Powell to run against Hillary Clinton for her Senate seat in 2006. Republicans like Rep. Peter King wax enthusiastic about having a high-profile candidate like General Powell to stand up to the Clinton machine, especially one who has benefitted from relatively positive press coverage during most of his career. Rep. Vito Fossella has started a "draft Powell" movement to entice the retired Secretary of State to join the fight against the odds-on favorite for the 2008 Democratic Presidential nomination.

I agree that Powell makes an impressive candidate for any office, but in this case, the GOP may be walking into a trap. To paraphrase John Kerry, the 2006 Senate race is the wrong fight at the wrong time, and for the national GOP, Powell is the wrong man.

In running for re-election in 2006 ahead of the 2008 primaries, Clinton gives the GOP a perfect opportunity to tie her down to leftist policy positions that she will have a hard time defending in a general election. New York, especially New York City, is significantly more liberal than the rest of the nation, and winning there requires more than just a sop to the left-wing base of the Democratic Party. For example, HillaryCare -- her health-care debacle in her husband's first term as President -- would be much more palatable in her adopted state but would spell disaster for 2008. Republicans can push her into a corner by forcing her to adopt a leftist national policy in 2006, and then beat her up over it for the following two years.

However, if Powell ran against her, Hillary and her expert political team would turn the tables and run against the Bush Administration instead. Powell, having been a key part of a foreign policy that enjoys only middling support in New York and less than that in the Big Apple, would quickly find himself on the defensive, and the New York Times would ensure that he stays there. Every crackpot conspiracy theory about Bush and his team would be thrown at Powell under the legitimate cover that Powell's service under Bush should be considered by the electorate.

Imagine that campaign for just a moment. Hillary will demand that Powell answer questions such as, Did you support the invasion of Iraq, or did Bush overrule you? Why did America fail to convince France and Germany to sign onto the rebuilding of Iraq? Why did foreign policy fail under your direction? How could you make that presentation to the United Nations when you opposed the precipitate action Bush wanted? The GOP would find itself forced to endure the 2004 campaign all over again, and Hillarys national media profile would guarantee that it would color every political campaign in the country.

This forces Powell into one of two responses, neither of which will be palatable to the GOP. Either Powell spends the entire campaign defending the Bush Adminstration, which won't exactly endear him to the New York voters who went for Kerry by 18 points, or he will be forced to air some dirty laundry about his policy disagreements with Bush and his national-security team. That option will put the entire GOP ticket on the defensive all year long and make it difficult to retain the 10-seat advantage Republicans enjoy in the Senate, let alone pick up seats in various red-state contests. It also may complicate any mid-term Cabinet appointments needed by Bush, and it will deplete the political capital Bush needs to push his agenda in Congress, especially judicial nominations.

General Powell is undoubtedly an asset to the Republican Party and should consider a run for significant electoral office, but the GOP has to ask itself what it hopes to accomplish with the 2006 Senate race. If they want to add to their advantage and come closer to a filibuster-proof majority, then pitting a member of the loyal dissent against the best political machine the Democrats have to offer is a losing bet. Rudy Giuliani would make a better opponent to challenge Clinton and has at least the same chance as Powell to beat her, and will make it easier to handicap her for the 2008 race even if she prevails in 2006.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at November 17, 2004 11:54 AM

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» Powell for NY Senate? from Slant Point
I heard this idea thrown about yesterday on NY1 News, with Staten Island Rep. Vito Fossella saying Colin Powell should run against Hillary in 2008. Captain Ed explains why this is not a good idea. I agree, but for different reasons. Powell stepping int... [Read More]

Tracked on November 17, 2004 2:44 PM

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