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November 21, 2006
The Decline Of The Democrats' Diva

The 2008 presidential primaries had long been considered a coronation process for Hillary Clinton. Certainly, other names have surfaced as contenders for the throne, but most of them have been revealed as pretenders instead. John Kerry and Al Gore garner laughs and shudders, while Barack Obama just got to Washington two years ago. John Edwards has disappeared from view after his attempt to leverage half of his first term in any political office to become the Vice President -- except for that incident where his staffer went to the Evil Empire (Wal-Mart) to buy his kids a new game system.

Part of the consideration of Hillary's inevitability came from the massive war chest she amassed for her re-election bid to New York's Senate seat in the midterms. Facing no real competition, analysts presumed she would retain most of it for the 2008 primaries, giving her a huge head start and eclipsing most of the competition before the race even began. However, the New York Times reports that she has dissipated most of the money despite winning the race by over 30 points:

She had only token opposition, but Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton still spent more on her re-election — upward of $30 million — than any other candidate for Senate this year. So where did all the money go?

It helped Mrs. Clinton win a margin of victory of more than 30 points. It helped her build a new set of campaign contributors. And it allowed her to begin assembling the nuts and bolts needed to run a presidential campaign.

But that was not all. Mrs. Clinton also bought more than $13,000 worth of flowers, mostly for fund-raising events and as thank-yous for donors. She laid out $27,000 for valet parking, paid as much as $800 in a single month in credit card interest and — above all — paid tens of thousands of dollars a month to an assortment of consultants and aides.

Throw in $17 million in advertising and fund-raising mailings, and what had been one of the most formidable war chests in politics was depleted to a level that leaves Mrs. Clinton with little financial advantage over her potential rivals for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination — and perhaps even trailing some of them.

The first rule of political campaigns, as expressed in a joke told by John F Kennedy, is not to buy a single vote more than you need. Not only did Hillary overbuy, but she didn't even do so very efficiently. Chuck Schumer spent half of what Hillary spent on his re-election bid in 2004, when George Bush and the Republicans won the electoral cycle, and he wound up with a higher margin of victory. In 2006, when all of the portents pointed to a Democratic victory -- and in New York, where her re-election was assured -- Hillary blew a lot of cash to get her 2-1 margin over an earnest but doomed Republican challenger.

So who got the money, besides the florists? The same political consultants who -- surprise! -- told her to spend the money. Her pollster, Mark Penn, got over a million dollars in a race that no one considered at risk. Mandy Grunwald got almost a million for communications consultant services, again for a race where Hillary got tremendous coverage in the press. Millions went out in advertising in an election that Clinton had sewed up before even moving out of the White House in 2001.

Democrats, naturally, wonder how Hillary can manage a presidential campaign when she can't exert any discipline over a gimme re-election bid. The money that was supposed to convince donors that she had a lock on the nomination has mostly gone, and with it any hope of keeping the kingmakers in line. Granted, she has a huge advantage with her highly popular popular husband on the fund-raising circuit, but even the most starry-eyed Democratic donors have to wonder which florist will wind up with their money.

Even beyond that, what happens if she wins the Presidency? It's hard to run as a fiscally disciplined executive when one keeps running profligate election campaigns. Spending $746,000 on entertainment, $125,000 of it at the New York Hilton alone, makes it look like Hillary will be less than circumspect with taxpayer money as well as donor contributions. It's the kind of high-profile consumption one expects from a Hollywood diva, and not from a serious political candidate who wants to build trust with the American electorate.

Hillary has given her Democratic competition a huge opening, and not just financially, in the 2008 primaries. Its doubtful that anyone can force Hillary to do anything, but if Democrats are serious about electing the first woman President, they'd better start providing her with better fiscal management.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at November 21, 2006 11:28 AM

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The Decline Of The Democrats' DivaEd Morrissey The 2008 presidential primaries had long been considered a coronation process for Hillary Clinton. Certainly, other names have surfaced as contenders for the throne, but most of them have been revealed as ... [Read More]

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