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Sunday, August 23, 2015

Candidate Profile (D): #1. Hillary Clinton

For background to this series, click here. Previous posts:

8/15: 5. Lincoln Chafee
8/17: 4. Martin O'Malley
8/19: 3. Bernie Sanders
8/21: 2. Jim Webb

I have not been looking forward to this post. In fact, I've been dreading it. It's exceedingly difficult to find unbiased sources that do not use selective facts and specious conclusions to either defend or attack Hillary Clinton. Pro- and anti-Clinton camps feel so strongly about their information and preferred, closed-loop sources that these opposing sides resemble competing religions. Fortunately, I'm not telling you who to vote for. I'm just telling you how it's going to be.

The most likely Democratic nominee is . . .

#1. Hillary Clinton, 67, former senator from New York (2001-2009) and U.S. Secretary of State (2009-2013)

Campaign Website and Slogan--www.hillaryclinton.com--"This Starts With You"

PPFA Slogan--"Come On, People, It's My Turn and You Know It, SO KNOCK IT OFF, OKAY?!"

Educational Background--B.A. from Wellesley College (political science) and juris doctor from Yale Law

Ideology on liberal-conservative spectrum (-10 is far left and +10 is far right. A center moderate is 0.): -6.25 (Individual rights: -9; Domestic: -8; Economic: -8; Foreign policy: 0) Aside from foreign policy, that is an extremely liberal. In the first three categories, Sanders scored -10, -8, and -8. Clinton almost replicates those scores. The lesson, as I've tried to tell you for the last couple posts, is that she's a lot more liberal than progressives give her credit for.

Liberal Rank based on above: 2 of 5. This kind of liberalism is why the theme of my last two entries was that attacking Clinton from her left won't ultimately last, especially after, closer to the primaries, she showers the airwaves with campaign ads reminding voters of her long history of pushing the progressive agenda.

Spin from the candidate's campaign--"She ran the State Department in the most effective way that I’ve ever seen." -Former Republican Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. After being a dutiful wife, mother, and First Lady, Hillary Clinton was finally able to step out from her husband's shadow. In 2000 she was elected a U.S. Senator from New York with 55 percent of the vote. She admirably served New Yorkers for eight years. In the midst of that run, she was so popular and effective that she was re-elected to a second term with 67 percent support, winning all but four of New York's 62 counties, many of them conservative leaning. In the process, she served on five Senate committees, including the Committee on Budget and Committee on Armed Services, crucial experiences for a future president. Her famous 2008 presidential run fell just barely short of Senator Barack Obama's, but even after a hard-fought campaign, she put her differences with the president-elect aside and agreed to be his Secretary of State. She proceeded to get four more years of valuable political and state experience, further bolstering her qualifications to head the branch that she has gotten to know better than has any candidate in either party.

Since conceding the 2008 Democratic Primary, she's been the presumptive Democratic nominee for the first post-Obama election. For the first time ever, a candidate for president has faced eight years of political attacks in anticipation of an election. As a result, the Republicans have keyed in on her every move, targeted her at every turn. They've stored every misstep she's ever made, dismissed every accomplishment she's ever had, and exaggerated, or even fabricated, every potential negative story. Her poll numbers and favorability have been dented as a result, but enough people still realize that she is the best way to not only revive the successful Clinton White House of the late Nineties, but also to continue the rally from the recession that the Republicans put us in.

Spin from opponents--From Republicans: She's the worst person on Earth--nay, the UNIVERSE!
Hyperbole aside, this latest email scandal is just the latest in a long line of shady and often inexcusable actions and lies, conveniently cataloged by conservativeamerican.org. Worst of all are the security lapses that led to the 2012 terrorist attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya, for which she initially took responsibility before later passing the buck to "security professionals." No one has yet been punished or held accountable for that unforgivable tragedy, and the media continues to give Clinton a free pass on it. This family has, for decades, lacked transparency, misled the public, and done whatever they wanted for their political purposes. At the very least, these incidents show a history of poor decision-making that we cannot have managing the economy, negotiating with foreign countries, and ordering military action. Let's reject them the Clintons once and for all.

From Democrats: "The Democratic Party can and must have a better nominee than Hillary Clinton for President in 2016," says the "Democrats Against Hillary" Facebook page. Hear hear! In recent years, the Democratic Party has evolved into a progressive, forward-thinking organization, but Hillary Clinton is a page from the past. When the party tackles income inequality, is it really best to nominate someone so wealthy? When the party wants to criticize corporate money controlling our politicians, is it really best to nominate someone who has accepted millions and millions more dollars of corporate money than any other Democrat? When the party wants to put big banks in their place and help Main Street over Wall Street, is it really best to nominate someone who has accepted big checks from Lehman Brothers, Goldman Sachs, and more like them? Last year, Politico wrote an article titled "Wall Street Republicans' dark secret: Hillary Clinton 2016." Exactly. Though she'll probably at least partially run on President Obama's fiscal policies, which have led to an improving economy, Democratic candidate Jim Webb reminds us not everyone has benefited from it: "If you own stocks, if you've got capital assets, you're probably doing pretty well. . . . Working people's wages have gone down since 2009."

This election will be about the future, not the past. Let the Republicans be the party to perpetuate an old, out of touch dynasty. Let the Democrats reflect the name of their party.

How do the polls look?--Not as close as the media, which prefers a horse race over a blowout, would have you believe. In national polls, her RCP average is 49.3, which is a 24.3 point lead on Bernie Sanders in second place. In Iowa, the numbers are almost identical--she's at 50.5, good enough for a 24.2 lead. Incidentally, these big numbers feel pretty awkward to write after all the small numbers I've been using through both the Republican and Democratic rankings. It's a good reminder about how strong her position is.

In New Hampshire, always expected to be homefield for Sanders, her RCP average lead is down to 1, 40.7-39.7, and Sanders won the most recent poll by seven points. This development is not surprising.

Overall, Sanders without question has the momentum nationally and in the opening two states. Clinton's lead has been steadily chipped away throughout the summer. The question is--will the lead ever be chipped all the way through?

PPFA analysis--It's still extremely unlikely. We can't forget how large her 24-point national advantage actually is. It needs context. One way to put it is this: Clinton's RCP average lead over Sanders is 24.3. That's about the same distance between Sanders in second place and Lincoln Chafee in last place. (Chafee is 25 points behind Sanders.) That should be a cage-rattling statistic that you're free to whip out next time in you're in a debate with a Sanderholic about his chances. However, since it's such a tiny field and three of the five declared candidates are polling under 2, we're kind of talking ourselves into this being a race between two equally realistic horses.

Another kind of context is my specialty--that of the recent historical kind. Some argue that lots of favorites--Rick Perry, Rudy Giuliani, Hillary Clinton herself--have blown their leads in recent primaries, so why is it so unlikely that yet another favorite will crumble? To see how this large lead makes her a special kind of favorite, let's work our way back.

In the 2012 election cycle, only the Republican nomination was contested. If we start the cycle the summer before the primaries--that is, the summer of 2011--we find a tumultuous race that still gave way for the favorite. Romney's largest national poll number prior to the primaries themselves was 33 points. When Rick Perry entered and popped in late summer, he quickly reached 36 points before quickly tumbling. Romney regained the lead but couldn't get above 30. In October, it was Herman Cain's turn, but 30 was his peak as well. In the beginning of December, Newt Gingrich had his run and in one poll got all the way up to 40 percent, but that also evaporated. Momentum slid back to Romney after his ostensible Iowa victory, and he also hit 40. Then, Gingrich wrestled back the national lead after the South Carolina Primary in late January before both he and Romney were outstripped by Santorum in February. Santorum reached 39 in a poll, but then Romney grabbed the lead back for good, still never hitting 50 percent until Santorum withdrew from the race when it was all but over.

To recap, the biggest leads ever achieved by candidates while the race was competitive were 33, 36, 30, 30, 40, 40, and 39. In contrast, Hillary Clinton has lived in the 50s and 60s. Her lowest result was 47 percent--albeit in the most recent poll--still higher than anything any candidate was able to earn four years ago.

I'll spare the mathematically challenged another numerically-filled paragraph, but a quick look at the race four years before that--Republicans in 2007--yields similar ceilings. Rudy Giuliani never topped 38 percent, Fred Thompson never topped 32, Mike Huckabee hit 25 nationally only after he won Iowa, and John McCain never hit Clinton's low water 47 percent until he was seen as inevitable after the first few primaries.

I'll circle around to the 2008 Democrats in just a moment, but if we for now go back to the 2004 Democratic race (the 2004 Republican race was uncontested), we see more of the same kinds of numbers--no Democratic candidate ever polled more than the low 30s.

To find the last race that had a favorite like Hillary Clinton in it--that is, a contested primary where one of the candidates is regularly around or north of 50 percent support--we have to go all the way back to 2000. In that election cycle, Democrat Al Gore polled Hillaryesque 50s and 60s throughout 1999. The result of that primary? He swept all 50 states. Also polling around there was Republican George W. Bush, who ended up taking "only" 43 states in his blowout win. Similar to today's campaign, both of those big frontrunners had a faux challenger--Gore with Bill Bradley and Bush with John McCain--who got a minority of voters very excited and gave the media hope that it would not be a runaway. But then it was.

Gore's and Bush's numbers then are Clinton's numbers now. Our closest comparison screams at us that she's not as vulnerable as the media would have us think.

One might argue that of all the recent historical primaries, the most relevant, for obvious reasons, is the 2008 Democratic Primary, when favorite Hillary Clinton blew her lead against the underdog Barack Obama. So let's take a closer look there. I again count on FiveThirtyEight for their telling charts, like this one, which compares polling averages between this summer and the summer of 2007.
enten-datalab-clintonlead-1

We can see she is polling considerably better nationally and in key states than she was eight years ago. Of course, her numbers aren't in a vacuum. Also important is the strength of the challenger, right? But again we see a much stronger Clinton today. Her lead over Senator Obama then was less than her lead over Sanders now. A poll done on August 21-22, 2007 had her at a lead of only 12 (35-23).

Plus, Sanders has the advantage of no other big candidates in the race. Don't forget that John Edwards had a nice run in 2008 right up through Iowa, in which he came in second to Obama and ahead of Clinton. Sanders has already soaked up all of the non-Clinton juice and still trails by more than Obama did. Unlike Obama steadily siphoning support from the other candidates in 2007 and 2008, Sanders has little left to siphon. All that's left for his surge to consume are Biden supporters, but with Biden as an establishment politician, it's no sure thing that they would turn to a non-establishment candidate.

But polls aren't everything, I acknowledge. Opinions can change. What changes them? Among other things--funding. Again we can learn by contrasting Clinton and her chief opponent in 2015 to Clinton and her chief opponent in 2007. At this point eight years ago, here are fundraising totals:

Clinton: $63 million
Obama: $58 million
Edwards $23 million
All other candidates (Chris Dodd, Bill Richardson, Joe Biden, the gnomish Dennis Kucinich, and the immediately forgotten Mike Gravel): $33 million
Clinton's percent of total Democratic fundraising: 35 percent
Obama's: 33 percent

In 2015, as of July 31:
Clinton: $67.8 million
Sanders's: $15.2 million.
All others: $3 million
Clinton's percent of total Democratic fundraising: 79 percent
Sanders's: 18 percent

These aren't votes, of course, but there's a reason campaigns raise money and run ads--they translate to votes. Clinton will unleash a barrage of ads closer to and then during the primaries themselves. Neither Sanders nor anyone else will be able to compete, and it should be more than enough to keep her challengers at bay.

In addition to polling support and fundraising, there's that endorsement factor (endorsements are imperfect but strong indicators of primary victors) I harped on with the Sanders column. Since Sanders indisputably still has a lot of work left to change enough people's minds, and he has a lot less cash with which to do it, he needs support from important members of the party so they can campaign for him in places he can't be. But for reasons I mentioned on Wednesday, he has largely alienated that party.

As a result, he's getting no support from it. In 2007, Barack Obama was. That gives us another difference between the 2016 and 2008 Democratic primaries. Clinton was indeed outpacing Obama's endorsements at this time eight years ago, but at least Obama was getting some traction with them, while Clinton's lead in the category wasn't quite as gargantuan:

enten-datalab-clintonlead-2

Three things should jump out: 1) Clinton's jaw-dropping endorsement performance this time compared to 2008; 2) Barack Obama was already getting endorsement recognition at this stage eight years ago; and 3) That purple line is Sanders staying at zero endorsements. He can't take on the entire party by himself.

Frankly, with poll numbers, fundraising, and endorsements all at her back, the only way Clinton loses this primary is if the campaign implodes in some way. Could it be the email scandal? It does seem to be gaining steam. But then again, the Clintons are used to this. How many controversies have they fought through in their day?

Plus, not only are the Clintons used to loud dissent, but so, too, are all heavy favorites seen as inevitable. Since 1988, there have been four favorites that measured 50 percent or more support in primaries that were contested. In each of those instances, the success of their challengers when making pushes in Iowa and/or New Hampshire resulted in many voters thinking the race was a lot closer than in actuality. All these plucky challengers poured most of their time and treasure into one or both of the opening states in order to then get the subsequent "bumps" from victories, and those state's polls reflected those pushes. Meanwhile, the media seized on those polls and the ratings opportunity to reinforce the narrative. Finally, for all four of these favorites, once that new storyline developed, cracks seemed to emerge in the frontrunner's status and people began questioning his inevitability.

We're seeing that same story play out before our eyes again, so we must ask the question--how did those four favorites do? Take a look:
silverclinton1NEW2
Of the four, only Al Gore was able to more than break even in the first two states, and he almost lost New Hampshire. Yet, despite this early success from the challengers, never has that strategy worked out to ultimate victory. The big candidate with the money and support from the party ultimately triumphs convincingly after the primaries go national. All of this has happened before, and all of it will happen again.

Sanders will win New Hampshire, and he might even win Iowa. But after that? It's not looking good. All told, Sanders supporters, your guy Bern might just win, but it would be, without question and without rival, the biggest upset in recent political history.

PPFA nomination rank--1 of 5 (Odds: 1:4). It's certainly possible that the email scandal will be the last straw on the camel's heretofore sturdy back. (In fact, I've moved her odds from 1:5 to 1:4. A Biden entry would move it to 1:2.) Still, I'd bet on the large sample size of Clintonian resilience, frontrunners of this magnitude finishing the job, and the reliable advantage of money and endorsements over the hot take of the last few weeks.

PPFA general election rank--2 of 5. Her task will be to reassemble the Obama coalition. The President won two terms on the backs of minorities, young voters, and women, while white men were largely punted:

Obama won blacks and the youth vote in huge numbers, and he won women unlike any candidate of the last 20 years except for Bill Clinton's 1996 blowout win over Bob Dole. Moreover, not reflected in that chart is the Latino vote, where Obama demolished Romney with 71 percent of the vote to Romney's 27 percent.

Considering her strength with minorities and women, discussed in detail here on Wednesday, she's on her way. Sanders, however, has won over the youth. Will they come out for Clinton in a general like they did for Obama or would for Sanders? That could be the deciding factor.

3 comments:

Stevie K said...

For the mathematically challenged: If the odds of Clinton winning the nomination are 1:4, how does that translate into percentage chances? Also, did any candidate get a PPFA general election rank of 1 of 5?

rich said...

Jim Webb!

IC said...

^^^

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