Crafting the New Hillary
She's removing the rough edges, but not everyone's convinced Senator Clinton is warm and fuzzyor that she's a winner in 2008
Pride. Women form the core of her constituencyand make up 54 percent of the electorate, a powerful base of support. To capitalize on this, Hillary talks openly about her pride in being a woman and a mother. About 59 percent of women have a favorable view of Clinton, compared with 39 percent who have an unfavorable view, according to the Washington Post/ABC News poll. She is especially popular among women 18 to 34, of whom 66 percent have a favorable view. In her re-election to the Senate from New York last November, she won 73 percent of the female vote.
But Clinton is much less popular among men. Forty-eight percent of men have a favorable view of her, and 49 percent are unfavorable. Her share of the male vote in New York last year, 61 percent, was strong but lagged substantially behind the women.
In one way, history is on her side, since the establishment candidate generally wins major-party nominations, as did John Kerry in 2004, Al Gore in 2000, and many Republicans over the years. But the establishment candidate also sometimes stumbles and falls, as did Ed Muskie in losing the nomination to George McGovern in 1972. As the front-runner, Hillary knows she will be everyone's favorite target.
"She's got the old guard, the establishment," says a Democratic strategist with close ties to a rival presidential campaign. "But is this a year when all the accouterments of the old guard and the establishment will be more of a hindrance than a help? You've got an electorate looking for change, and they're not looking to Washington." Adds Frank Donatelli, former political director in the Reagan White House: "The American people look to the future, not the past. Hillary Clinton can only be a candidate of the past."
All this insider chatter seemed far away during her talk to the union and environmental activists in Washington last week. While her friend Anna Burger spoke, a smiling Senator Clinton, like a schoolmarm admiring a star pupil, nodded approvingly. When it was her turn, Clinton wonkishly called for the creation of a strategic energy fund, starting with $50 billion from the government raided partly from the repeal of tax breaks for the oil companies, to help develop renewable energy and create energy security. She criticized a "hint of fatalism" that has crept into Washington during the Bush administration and called for Americans to renew their optimism and unite behind new solutions to the nation's problems. "This is what Americans do best," she said with a big smile. "We are problem solvers."
That's certainly an uplifting theme, but it's far from clear at this point that Hillary Rodham Clinton is the right messenger.