November 26, 2007

Is Bill Poison In Iowa?

Bill Clinton has finally begun campaigning in Iowa, sixteen years after he began running for President. Iowans appear to welcome him warmly on behalf of his wife, but Hillary's opponents have reminded them that when she takes credit for his successes, she has to take responsibilities for his failures as well. That formula forced Al Gore to keep Bill at arm's length in the 2000 race, and former Clinton official Donna Brazile says she knows why:

Bill Clinton's shadow over the 2008 nominating race creates potential pitfalls for his wife and for her opponents. Hillary Clinton risks being seen as something other than her own candidate, while her opponents risk offending Iowa Democrats who revere the former president.

"I think it's going to come down to: Do you really want Bill Clinton back in the White House?" said Donna Brazile, who ran Democrat Al Gore's 2000 presidential campaign. ...

The mixed reception of the Clinton White House is a far cry from four years ago, when the Democratic presidential candidates regularly cited the budget surplus, job growth and relative global peace the Clinton administration left behind after eight years in office.

"Isn't it weird, that four years ago they were campaigning on all the good that happened when we had a Democrat in the White House, and today they are regretting things that did or didn't happen because we had a Democrat in the White House," said Brazile, who is unaffiliated with any of the 2008 campaigns. "You can't have it both ways."

The Democrats have tried it both ways, and will have it both ways at the same time in 2008. The 2004 strategy didn't elevate a mediocrity to the White House, but Hillary has no choice but to use it for herself. Why else would anyone vote for her? She hasn't set the world on fire as a two-term Senator, not exactly the best platform to launch a presidential career; the last Senator who won a Presidency was John F. Kennedy, who had almost twice as much time in Congress than Hillary.

The rest of the field will use the 2000 strategy, again without much choice. None of the other frontrunners in the campaign have any experience on which they can run. Between the two of them, John Edwards and Barack Obama have as much national office experience as Hillary. They have no record on which to run, having been even less effective in their combined eight Senate years than Hillary in hers. They have to run against her assertions of experience.

Democratic caucusing in Iowa will end up being a referendum on Bill Clinton. Is he "revered" or is he voting-booth poison? Most Democrats will have him in the middle, closer to the former than the latter, most likely, but Brazile's question may be more complicated to answer. Iowans -- and the rest of America's voters -- may like Bill Clinton just fine, but do they want the Clintons back in the White House? Do they want a continuation of the Arkansas dynasty?

I suspect not, and some of Hillary's negatives may come from this impulse. It may not yet have coalesced into a tangible issue, but it will get more specific as Hillary moves closer to the general election. American voters will wonder why the two major parties can't produce candidates other than Clintons or Bushes, and Brazile's question will come to the forefront eventually.


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