Friday, December 14, 2007

Hillary and the Expectations Game

Could not agree more with Seth Gitell's recent post about the 'Hillary-in-free-fall' stories that are now rampant in the press. For instance, Howard Fineman's piece earlier in the week (clearly written pre-debate, although the dynamics did not change yesterday) is featured prominently on Drudge this afternoon. Billy Shaheen's comments over the past few days resulted in his resignation from the NH campaign yesterday, giving rise to a series of stories about a 'campaign-in-disarray'. And the New York Times' Adam Nagourney earlier in the week wrote a story emphasizing how the Clintons have never really campaigned in Iowa (the 1992 caucuses were ceded to favorite son Tom Harkin) and that there was tension between the President's advisors and the campaign's staff.

The reality is that as a former First Lady, with extremely high name-recognition, and a national front runner for months on end, expectations should be -- fairly -- for convincing wins everywhere. Moreover, the 'inevitability' argument that the Clinton campaign has been touting for months should be making a loss anywhere -- Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, or South Carolina -- a mortal wound.

(Just as a point of comparision -- and yes, it was a different era and before the Iowa caucuses took on their current importance -- but, LBJ 'lost' the New Hampshire primary in 1968, even though he received a majority (49%) of the votes, to Gene McCarthy's 42%.)

Yes, Hillary has had a bad month. Yes, Obama has proved to be an effective counter-puncher. And yes, there's still a lot of time left (although less time than the calendar would indicate, when one takes into account the days lost to Christmas and the holiday week.)

But right now, a win in Iowa for Hillary would effectively end the race. And even a convincing win by Obama there may not end the talk of a Clinton 'firewall' in New Hampshire, Nevada, or
South Carolina. Moreover, with the Democratic delegates reflecting proportional representation (see, e.g., 2004 NH Democratic results) -- rather than the closer-to-winner-take-all primaries on the GOP side (see 2000 Michigan results) -- meaning that a wounded Clinton campaign could continue on past Super Tuesday and into the Spring.

The Clinton campaign has one other advantage: a base level of support that is the flip side to her high negative ratings. While some voters will not vote for her under any circumstances, others -- and especially women -- want to vote in favor of the first truly viable woman candidate. It should surprise no one that Clinton's new ad is focused on three generation of "Rodham" women, all of who think Hillary should be president.

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