The Debate Didn't Matter
I've been away on business for several days, and I wanted to chime in on some of the issues eriposte and Jeff have touched upon in their fine work.
I didn’t like Hillary’s answer at the debate on immigrant drivers’ licenses, nor did I like the inevitable ganging up on her by her competitors and Russert, but she should be expecting this and using it as a badge of honor rather than counterattacking as a victim. Cleverly, her campaign is already running a Tier One/Tier Two campaign in this race, whereby the candidate stays on the high road and doesn't play the "victim card" card, and instead labels her opponents' and the media's pressure upon her as resulting from her front-runner status. Meanwhile, her surrogates run a Tier Two effort blasting her opponents and the media for going after her because she is a woman, sensitizing the public to future similar attacks. It is a classic Rovian manuever that I advised the Kerry campaign to copy in 2004, which they failed to do.
Having said this, it appears that the debate performance had little impact upon the race, as Monday’s Washington Post reports that a new poll taken during and after the debate shows that Hillary’s lead among Democrats is still a strong 23 points over Obama. But aside from her strong showing amongst Democrats, the other findings in this poll are eye-opening.
Rudy has by no means solidified a front-runner position on the GOP side, and in fact his approval rating amongst evangelicals and conservatives has dropped significantly since he announced his candidacy in February.
Fred Thompson has already flatlined, and the GOP faithful are comparatively very unhappy with their field.
As for that "electability" issue that the media and her Democratic rivals bring up, I give you this:
A large and growing lead on "electability" also propels Clinton's candidacy. More than six in 10 Democrats now see her as the candidate who has the best shot at winning next November -- up 19 points from June.
And who is viewed as the best leader and has the highest approval rating compared to her rivals?
Three-quarters of Democrats view Clinton favorably, which is somewhat higher than the results for Obama (67 percent) or Edwards (62 percent). More than twice as many have a "strongly" positive impression of Clinton as have that view of Edwards. And most of those who would back Clinton in their state's primary or caucus, "strongly" support her.
A majority of Democrats see Clinton as the strongest leader of the three top candidates, and she has the edge over Obama and Edwards as being best on the issues and the closest representative of the party's core values. Notably, given the increasingly sharp debate among the candidates over foreign policy, Clinton is seen as the best able to handle the situations in Iraq and involving Iran, by margins of better than 2 to 1.
Hillary had an off night in Philly, and guess what? No one noticed or cared. She is still rising within her party at a time when Rudy is dealing with a demoralized party that isn't wild about him. She is seen as more and more electable by her own party, and she does better and better against her rivals as time goes on.
I have thought for awhile now that the 1996 campaign has just as many lessons for Hillary as any other campaign. In that race, Clinton won against Dole not in 1996 but in 1995, because he set the negatives and the narrative against Dole a year before the race. Similarly, Team Clinton needs to use this time to paint Rudy as a small man in search of a balcony; a man who would be nothing more than "more of the same." In fact, Hillary can hammer the message that a vote for any of the GOP candidates would be a vote for another four years of Bush at a time that this country needs change and to step out from under the GOP's cloudy skies of the last eight years. Yes, take a few shots at your rivals when necessary, but don't engage in the "I'm a victim" game. Remind the voters repeatedly between now and next year that a vote for Il Duce or any of the other GOP candidates is simply a vote for more doom and failure.