Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Turning Points

Roger Simon, of Politico, wrote a very interesting piece asking "Where did the tables turn?" for Hillary Clinton's campaign. How did she go from "inevitable" to campaign life- support?

Simon points to her loss in Iowa, where it's questionable if she should've campaigned in the first place, as the moment when Hillary's campaign got away. They underestimated the power of younger voters, and overestimated their own organization.

Somehow, they lost Iowa, Simon says, and allowed a well- financed and talented candidate in Barack Obama to start his foray into national politics with a running start.

But, I would argue that she began her downward spiral earlier, at the Halloween debate with her now- infamous response to a question on NY state's plan to give driver's licenses to illegal immigrants. She stammered and failed twice to give a clear response, saying she understood and sympathized with the problem and the plan, but did not fully support it.

Even her husband said it was a bad answer.

Before that, she'd been running a near perfect campaign. But that opened the door, confirming for many their greatest suspicion about her-- that she'd say anything to get elected, and would duck important issues in the process.

In retrospect, there were factors beyond her control: John Edwards' popularity in the state, and the huge turnout of young voters. But that question... it was so revealing. That was the moment I decided I couldn't vote for her in the primary, and I don't think I was alone.

Up to that point, Edwards and Obama were each jockeying to be the alternative to Hillary, but it didn't seem like the Democrats wanted or needed one. They were on board with the whole inevitability thing, but that question raised doubts:

We're about to anoint this woman our nominee, but she can't even talk straight. Let's shop around.

Soon, she'd lost her lead in Iowa, and although she rebounded in New Hampshire, things were never the same. Millions of Democrats across the country had looked elsewhere and found something, someone they could believe in.

In the end, the inevitability that marked the early part of Clinton's campaign was her greatest strength, but led to her downfall. The only way she could beat out a more politically talented opponent was to never let him get on his feet. And the only way to do that was to stay perfect. Once she lost perfection, she lost the race.

In another debate some three months later, Democrats were asked if they could have one response back from all the questions they'd been asked in debates thus far, what it'd be. The crowd laughed and the camera panned to Hillary. She smiled knowingly and put on a brave face, giving a decent answer.

But it was the question that spoke volumes.

Most Americans didn't need to hear her response, they'd heard a more telling one back on Halloween night, and they already had their answer.

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