Commentary Magazine


Dems Treat Hillary As Their Party Leader

The Hill reports that Democrats are trying to get Hillary Clinton to appear on the campaign trail for midterm elections next year. The second-term congressional elections are often trouble for the party that controls the White House, and the Obama administration is beset by scandals that may curb the enthusiasm of the party’s base and thus liberal turnout on Election Day.

Republicans continue to press their advantage in the House and Democrats will be on the defensive in the Senate as well. If the Democrats’ liberal base is in danger of apathy from the fuss over the NSA’s data collection, the other scandal–the IRS’s targeting of Tea Partiers–is likely to have the opposite effect for many Republicans. That means Democrats may need some extra help in many races, but those same races will be for districts or states where a visit from President Obama won’t help. Often Bill Clinton will pitch in to such efforts, but apparently that’s not the Clinton congressional Democrats have in mind:

“It’s almost universal,” said Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel (N.Y.). “Members would like her to drop by for a visit or two.”

He said he spoke to Clinton about helping Democrats retake the House. 

“I had a conversation with her where she said she needed time to see to some personal interests and I said, ‘The second you are ready — and I do not mean the minute and I do not mean the hour — but the second you are ready, I hope you will call me,’” Israel said.

[Ed] Rendell said if he were running again, he’d want Clinton over Obama to campaign for him because “President Obama is so identified with healthcare” and other controversial policy issues. 

“Hillary comes in as a white knight with little downside.”

That doesn’t sound like much, but it’s actually a lot to ask of Hillary Clinton. If a Democratic candidate is fighting an uphill battle to hold or win a seat, it doesn’t make much sense for Clinton to swoop in and get associated with the loss. If that happened on a large scale, Clinton would, to follow Rendell’s metaphor, dent her suit of armor. She wants to clear the field of serious primary competition for 2016, and she won’t do that by making the rounds on the campaign trail for losing efforts or controversial or unpopular candidates.

Some candidates will have more of a chance to get Clinton to show up for them, of course, for the same reason others won’t: self-interest. One such politician is New Hampshire Senator Jeanne Shaheen, who is running for reelection in 2014. As the Hill notes: “If reelected, Shaheen is expected to be a major player in the 2016 first-in-the-nation presidential primary in her home state. Her husband, William Shaheen, served as Clinton’s co-chairman of her national and New Hampshire campaigns in the 2008 contest.” In other words, they can call in Clinton because two years later she’ll be calling them for their help.

In fact, not to be cynical about it but the Hill annotates its quotes throughout the piece with helpful hints about the motivations of each person they spoke to on the record. As Jonathan wrote the other day, Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill became the first high-profile endorsement for the Clinton campaign that the Clintons insist is not yet a campaign. The Hill notes that McCaskill made a nasty remark about Bill Clinton during her 2006 campaign, and adds:

Some have viewed the Missouri Democrat’s move as a way to make amends with the Clintons, who are known to have long memories. It’s likely that other Democrats who criticized the Clintons during the 2008 race will follow McCaskill’s lead. That group could include lawmakers, lobbyists and Hollywood figures.

Sure, put the band back together. The Hill gets a quote from Ed Rendell predicting a momentum shift within the party to Clinton. But Rendell, we are reminded, “as a staunch Clinton supporter, has an interest in seeing his forecast come true.”

Just as interesting as the names that appear in the story are the names that don’t–the most notable absentee being Joe Biden. Though he is currently the vice president, he doesn’t even merit a mention. Of course, in part that’s because he is representing this White House, but Biden can be much more useful to candidates away from the coasts where his Amtrak-riding, blue-collar appeal can actually help Democratic candidates distance themselves from their party’s coastal elites.

They may resort to asking Biden anyway since Hillary is unlikely to accept the invitations of her party’s underdog candidates. But in the meantime, the coronation of Hillary Clinton seems to be in full swing.

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