Hillary’s Secret Weapons to Win the Nomination

Hillary Clinton
Not her fundraising. Nor her name recognition. Nor being a woman Eduardo Munoz/Reuters

Will Hillary Clinton be crowned Democratic queen in 2016?

Many Republicans and Democrats think so. Even Donald Trump told the CPAC, Conservative Political Action Conference he thought she’d be the Democrats’ nominee.

But no Democrat since 1960 has faced an easy path to the nomination -- unless they were an incumbent president running for reelection. And even then. Lyndon Johnson, who looked a shoo in, had to bow out in 1968.

So the idea that all Democrats will get out of Hillary’s way is absurd. As is the notion that her high poll numbers--hey, she had those in 2007--can’t suddenly tip downward.

It’s hard to see Joe Biden beating her, though every sitting Vice President since 1960 who has sought their party’s nomination has gone on to win: Hubert Humphrey in 1968, George H.W. Bush in 1988 and Al Gore in 2000.

And other Democrats could enter the race, including Gov. Brian Schweitzer of Montana, who has hinted he may be running, or even California Governor Jerry Brown, who ran in 1976 and 1992.

If Clinton seeks the Democratic nomination she would have advantages that she didn’t have in 2008 when she and Barack Obama had the closest Democratic nomination battle since 1960, when John F. Kennedy saw off Lyndon Johnson. (The race was so close, Kennedy offered Johnson the vice-presidency to keep the party intact.)

And Hillary’s advantages are not the obvious ones, such as her extraordinary fundraising ability or her unique name recognition or the prospect of being the first female president--none of which were sufficient to give her the Democratic nomination last time.

Her two secret weapons in 2016 should she run?

African American voters and America’s withdrawal from Iraq.

African-American voters make up roughly a quarter of the presidential nominating electorate and in 2008, according to exit polls, Obama won 82 percent of the African-American vote against just 15 percent for Clinton. (She garnered Hispanic votes by a 2-to-1 margin over Obama which lifted her to victory in states like California and  Nevada.)

The solid support of African-Americans last time around helped Obama forge a coalition of minority voters and more affluent whites. (Obama snapped up those who earn more than $100,000 a year; Hillary banked those making less than $50,000. They split the rest.)  

Unlike Bill Clinton and Al Gore, who enjoyed strong minority support that allowed them to stave of challenges from candidates who appealed to more affluent voters (such as Sen. Paul Tsongas in 1992 and Sen. Bill Bradley in 2000), Clinton faced an Obama backed overwhelmingly by African-Americans and by affluent voters who turn out for primaries in big numbers. Against that, Hillary’s coalition of Hispanic and less well heeled white Democrats wasn’t big enough.

Sure, in 2008 Hillary started with institutional African-American support, including members of the Congressional Black Caucus. But she suffered in part because of perceptions that her husband had made disparaging remarks about Obama during the South Carolina contest--something the Clintons vociferously denied.

In part because of that episode, her favorability among blacks sank to 23 percent, according to one survey that showed how far she’d fallen since her two Senate wins in New York and despite President Clinton’s solid support among African-Americans.

But she came bouncing back -- as Clintons are wont to do. (Remember the Comeback Kid?) By 2009, after she had been nominated as Obama’s Secretary of State,  her favorability among African Americans had rebounded to 93 percent.   

In 2016, a rival might come along who strongly challenges Clinton for the African-American vote. But there’s no African American candidate on the horizon.

Joe Biden might have some claim to the black vote. But it’s hard to see other candidates doing as well with African-Americans as Hillary, especially if President Obama remains neutral during the 2016 Democratic primaries as President Ronald Reagan did during the fight for the Republican nomination in 1988 .

If that happened, Clinton would have to earn the African-American vote just as she must win any other segment of the electorate. But currently she seems better poised to win African-Americans in two years’ time than she did back in 2008.

The other issue helping Clinton is the end of the Iraq war.

It seems eons ago, but back in 2008, Democratic voters overwhelmingly opposed the Iraq war. As an Illinois State Senator, Obama had declared his opposition to Bush’s Gulf War --which should have offered a hint of his ambition. His “No War” stance gave him instant appeal with anti-war sentiment sweeping the party. By contrast, Clinton had voted for the Iraq war resolution in the Senate, as did another primary contender, Joe Biden.

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