The Inevitability of Hillary Clinton?

McHenry Lee, JHU:

On Sunday, Hillary Clinton announced that she is seeking to become the first woman President in the history of the United States. For those who follow politics this should come as no surprise as we have been down this road before. At the start of the 2008 Presidential cycle Hillary Clinton was seemingly the inevitable choice for the Democratic Party. She was a sitting Senator from New York with a massive fundraiser base and was the wife of one of the most popular Democratic Presidents in recent history. In the beginning she had seemingly no competition and pundits anointed her as the favorite as early as the night George Bush was re-elected. But then something funny happened. A little known first term Senator from Chicago, whose only claim to fame had been a primetime speech at the 2004 DNC, beat her. So what’s different this time around? Do the Democrats have another Barack Obama who can take on the mighty Clinton war machine and prevail, or will Hillary Clinton finally get the nomination that she’s been chasing for years? Let’s take a look at her potential challengers.

Ever since she beat Scott Brown in 2012, Elizabeth Warren has become the pride and joy of the liberal wing of the Party. The Senior Senator from Massachusetts has become the poster girl for progressive tax and economic reform because of her criticisms of Wall Street greed and excess. She has successfully channeled the outrage felt by the Occupy Wall Street movement into a political career. Thus, many on the far left see her as a more liberal version of Hillary who could outmaneuver her to the left in the primaries. She has been called on to run by many donors and bundlers who don’t want to jump on the Clinton bandwagon. She has some advantages. Warren is a relatively new face in national politics, thus she has fewer scandals than most. Although she did catch some heat for falsely claiming that she was Native American on her application to be a Harvard Professor. Even though Clinton polls better than Warren nationally, Warren is doing much better in New Hampshire and Iowa, according to former Bill Clinton pollster Doug Schoen. If she can compete closely with or even beat Hillary in one of these first two states, like Obama did in Iowa in 2008, she could steal the momentum from Clinton and use it to catapult herself to the nomination.

Despite all of the signs pointing to her candidacy, Warren has always maintained that she won’t run. So unless she’s been misleading the public about her intentions, at this moment is seems unlikely that she is going to enter the fray. However, she could change her mind. She is currently 67 years old and would have to wait another 4-8 years for another chance. She seems to be at the height of her popularity at the moment and if she runs she wouldn’t have to vacate her Senate seat because she’s not up for re-election until 2018. So don’t be surprised is the Massachusetts Senator decides to change her mind, and if she does she, Warren would be the presumed frontrunner of the non-Hilary crowd. Of all the possible candidates, Elizabeth Warren seems to have the best shot at beating Hillary. Even if Warren doesn’t run, her rhetoric slamming Wall Street will undoubtedly influence Hillary’s campaign by pushing her to the left.

The current Vice President, Joe Biden, is also one of the first names that comes up in discussion about 2016. Like Hillary, he unsuccessfully ran before in 1988 and 2008; however the highest finish he had in any primary, 5th, was eight years ago. He has more than enough experience for the job, having previously served as both the chairman of Senate Judiciary and Foreign Relations Committees as well as being the sitting Vice President. Although he recently made several trips to New Hampshire and Iowa, he has not formed an exploratory committee or any type of campaign organization. A Biden candidacy at this stage seems unlikely, and even if he decides to run, his poll numbers show that many Democrats have grown tired of his presence on the national stage. He is trailing Hillary by substantial numbers in national and early state polls and doesn’t seem likely to make up any ground. Any potential challenger to Hillary would likely have to be a Washington outsider who can attack Clinton as being part of the beltway insider crew and Biden is in fact the opposite of that. He represents a continuation of the current administration, and even though Obama remains popular amongst Democrats, Biden’s poll numbers don’t translate this. Biden is still the vice president for the next two years and if were to win, he would be 74 when inaugurated. Although his name always seems to be thrown around, as time progresses it seems less and less likely that he will enter the fray.

Former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley seems to be the most likely Hillary challenger to run. He recently left Annapolis as his term limit expired. Although he hasn’t officially announced, he has formed an exploratory committee and begun to assemble a campaign team. He has also traveled to early primary states in an effort to increase his exposure. He got into the good graces of the party bosses for recently heading the Democratic Governors Association. One problem with O’Malley is his record as governor. Despite Maryland being a solid blue state, O’Malley’s approval ratings hit an at time low as he exited office, mainly because he oversaw tax increases that affected many middle class families as well as a failed health care exchange roll out that cost the state millions of dollars. Maryland voters rejected him even further when they elected a Republican, Larry Hogan, to replace him instead of O’Malley’s Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown. O’Malley also has very little national exposure as a former Governor. His poll numbers are very low because voters don’t know him or his positions. However, this is a double edged sword. It gives O’Malley the chance to try and define himself before national opinion and the media have a chance to do that for him. He can try and move to the left of Clinton, especially if Warren doesn’t run, and serve as a progressive alternative. This is likely O’Malley’s only chance to beat Hillary and her seemingly unstoppable juggernaut as the left of the party still hasn’t fully embraced her. If O’Malley can shift the national debate about him away from his tenure as Governor of Maryland and instead make it about progressive and leftist issues, he might have the ability to compete with Hillary, however unlikely it is that he actually beats her.

Bernie Sanders name has also gained some traction amongst liberals. Although the Senator from Vermont is currently an Independent he is a self-described Democratic Socialist who caucuses with the Democrats in the Senate and has become a favorite of the far left. Last March, Sanders said in an interview that he is prepared to run for President in 2016 and has begun to travel around the country to meet donors and voters. However he has yet to create a campaign infrastructure or even announce an exploratory committee. If he does run, Sanders would definitely tack to the left of Hillary and any other Democrats as he has done throughout his career. His path to the nomination would be left of everyone else. Although he has some popularity amongst liberal Democrats, the main criticism of him is that he is almost unelectable at a national level. As a self-described Democratic Socialist he would have a very hard time winning over independent voters. Although he has niche support amongst the far left, this could even be a problem in the primaries as his extreme views would polarize moderates. Even though it’s likely that he will run, Sanders represents the Democratic Party’s version of a Ted Cruz or Rick Santorum, popular amongst the party’s base but unable to woo over moderates with their partisan views.

Although these four are the biggest possible names who might challenge Hillary, there are several lesser known candidates who have declared interest or have been pressured to run. Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey has been compared to President Obama. Both were young African American senators who are electric public speakers, yet Booker has come out and said that there is no chance that he will run. Senator Mark Warner had been a successful Governor from the swing state of Virginia and many thought that he would consider running, however he almost lost his re-election bid in a surprisingly close election that many thought he would run away with. Having just been re-elected to the Senate he is unlikely to run. Andrew Cuomo, the Governor of New York was a long time party rising star, being the son of legendary Governor Mario Cuomo, but his star has faded recently. Jim Webb, the former secretary of the Navy and a former Senator from Virginia has recently formed an exploratory committee. He is seen as the Democrats best chance at winning back the working class white male voter who have been voting in droves for Republicans in recent elections. Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who gave an electric speech at the 2012 DNC, has been rumored to run. However, he has been close to the Clinton family and many expect him to back her in her bid. It is unclear if any of these politicians will run and even if they do, they stand little chance against Hillary and the other four popular choices. Nonetheless, just as Barack Obama was a relative unknown at the start of the 2008 cycle, perhaps one of these unlikely candidates will rise up and take the Democratic Party by storm.

Despite seemingly being the presumptive Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton remains a flawed candidate. Scandals continue to plague her wherever she turns, whether they be deleted private emails at the State Department or her foundation accepting money from foreign nationals. However, unless the Democrats can coalesce around an alternative, like they did 2008 with Barack Obama, Hillary seems to have a clear path to the nomination. Elizabeth Warren remains the strongest opponent that Hillary could face. However, she has time and time again declared that she will not run. Although Joe Biden had the experience and expertise necessary to occupy the oval office, Democratic voters remain lukewarm to him like they did in 1988 and 2008. Although Martin O’Malley will likely run, he has a questionable record as Governor of Maryland and remains unknown as a national figure. Bernie Sanders remains a favorite of the left wing of the party which is what makes him unelectable. His staunch support of far left issues won’t sit well with moderates in the party and in a potential national election. All four of these potential challengers are flawed in some way or another, and that’s not even taking into account that they would have to go up against a much more experienced and formidable campaign team with an almost unlimited war chest. Even though pundits declared Hillary the unchallenged favorite early in the 2008 cycle and she then went on to lose, this time is different. The Democratic Party does not have another candidate who can challenge the Clinton war machine and win like Obama did. It appears right now that Hillary Clinton really is inevitable as long as she doesn’t self-destruct from any of her scandals.

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