December 6, 2007

How Badly Has Hillary Damaged Herself?

Once seen as an inevitability, Hillary Clinton may not win the first two contests in the primaries -- and that may change the entire Democratic race. Having fallen into no better than a tie with Barack Obama in Iowa, Clinton now has lost significant ground in New Hampshire. She now leads by only six points, and her momentum has completely dissipated:

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton holds a narrow lead over Sen. Barack Obama among Democratic presidential candidates in New Hampshire, a state whose primary her campaign has viewed as a potential firewall should she stumble in the Iowa caucuses, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Clinton is widely seen as the party's best experienced and most electable presidential candidate, but with most Democratic voters in the state looking for a fresh approach to governing, the first-in-the-nation primary has become fiercely competitive.

With New Hampshire voters set to go to the polls on Jan. 8, Clinton (N.Y.) got 35 percent in the new poll, with Obama (Ill.) close behind at 29 percent. Former senator John Edwards (N.C.) ran third with 17 percent and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson was fourth at 10 percent. Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (Ohio), Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (Del.) and Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (Conn.) each registered 3 percent or less.

Just a few weeks ago, Hillary led Obama by over 20 points in New Hampshire. Iowa looked tough but winnable. New Hampshire, as the Post puts it, was Hillary's firewall. What happened?

Hillary started shooting herself in the foot. Never particularly inspiring, Clinton bungled a presidential debate by shifting in the middle of a single question on illegal immigrant drivers licenses. Instead of shrugging it off, she poured gasoline on the fire by switching her position twice again in the days afterward. Inexplicably, she has shifted into panic mode since, saying that she would start questioning Obama's character -- a strange battleground for the Clintons to choose -- and wound up criticizing Obama for a kindergarten essay he wrote about wanting to be President.

She wanted to highlight his lifelong lust for power. That again seems an odd issue for a carpetbagging Senator and former First Lady trying to get back into the White House. Hillary's entire campaign appears to have contracted a sudden case of tone-deafness. And even if she wins in New Hampshire, the inevitability has dissipated, and Democrats have to wonder what she'll do when put in the pressure cooker of a really tough general election campaign.

The problem for Democrats lies in their thin bench. Barack Obama will get blown away in a general election. He has no experience in national campaigning, and it has shown on the stump. People like him more than they do Hillary, but he's significantly farther to the left, and the moderates will not split in their favor. Edwards is a worse option than Obama Bill Richardson would be their best alternate, but he hasn't done much to inspire anyone on the hustings either. Al Gore may have been an option, but the time has almost run out for that kind of draft.

The Democrats have a huge problem on their hands, and it's getting worse by the day.


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