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The challenges of a Hillary candidacy

Some people think that Hillary Clinton, all but guaranteed to get the Democratic nomination for President, is in the best position possible. According to this line of thinking the Democratic nod is hers for the asking. All she needs to do is play it cool, look Presidential and at a time of her choosing throw her hat into the ring. But this role of heir apparent or presumed nominee is, historically at least, a hazardous one.  Many never make it to the final stretch and some crash and burn long before the convention.

Recalling a little ancient history, in 1972, Senator Edmund Muskie was the odds on favorite to get the Democratic nomination to run against Richard Nixon. He had the endorsement of just about every major Democratic figure and the polls showed him comfortably ahead. But, his support was a mile wide and an inch deep. His campaign fizzled early during the primary season. But, that was just one cautionary tale. Another heir apparent was Governor Mario Cuomo of New York. During three nomination fights, 1984, ‘88, and ‘92 the prospect of a Cuomo candidacy, which never came to pass, haunted the primary battles. The mantra was a familiar one, “if Cuomo wants the nomination it’s his for the asking.”  This fear that Cuomo would jump in at the last moment even kept some prospective nominees from declaring. Why bother if Cuomo wants it?  Sound familiar?

Even more recently, in 2008, it was Hillary who was the odds on favorite to win the nomination. Obama was twenty points behind and Hillary had the endorsement of many of the Democratic Party’s leading figures.  On the eve of the New Hampshire Primary every major news organization said she would win. But, that’s not what happened. New Hampshire, as it so often does, threw a curve ball and voted for Barack Obama. Clinton made a fight of it, she didn’t concede until just before the convention, but like so many before her, she was the odds on favorite whose fortunes turned when least expected.

There is every reason to expect that Clinton, having been through the 2008 nomination battle, and having served four years as Secretary of State will play her cards carefully in the months ahead. If she does want the nomination, and it’s still not entirely clear she does, she is unlikely to take anything for granted and will do her best to make sure her timing is flawless.

However, there is another side to a prospect of a Clinton candidacy. What happens if she doesn’t run?  Maybe detailed polling, her own concerns about her future, or perhaps even a loss of ambition for the big job (it’s happened before) will force her to change her mind. Then what?  Then where does the Democratic Party turn for a candidate?

Because the specter of a Hillary candidacy is so powerful there are currently no other candidates for the nomination. Vice President Joe Biden, already in his 70’s, would like to try, but he knows he couldn’t outpoll Hillary. Others who might be interested, such as Virginia Senator Mark Warner, Massachusetts Senator Mark Warner, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon and a host of others, have taken a pass on a run for the White House because of Hillary’s supposed lock on the nomination.

Many in the Democratic Party are fond of Hillary. I am, but I am also realistic enough to know that the being a front runner, or an heir apparent, is a dangerous business. It can be a precarious position to be in and arguably requires more political skill to maintain this status than it does to be an upstart prospective nominee.

—Reach David Kerr at
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