Thursday, May 22, 2008

Clinton in 2012: The Caucus Quandary

Let's assume for a moment that Obama wins the Democratic nomination, but goes on to lose to John McCain in the general election. Let us also assume that Hillary Clinton is true to her word and campaigns vigorously and wholeheartedly for Obama ahead of said general election. Finally, let's assume that the rules governing the selection of national convention delegates is not altered in any significant way. Iowa and New Hampshire still get to go first, and the rest of the states inch ever closer to a national primary.

Would the Democratic Party automatically unite behind Clinton on November 5 following an Obama loss the day before (...or for that matter between then and the beginning of the 2012 cycle)? Whether the party does or doesn't is inconsequential because a challenger (or challengers) would emerge regardless. With Iowa set to lead off the process again (given no change in the rules), would Clinton have a problem in 2012? There has been an awful lot of talk about the caucus process during 2008. But because Clinton's performance was less than stellar in caucus states and because she and her surrogates have questioned the level of democracy inherent in them, would she have a problem in the first and most visible caucus? The Hawkeye takes pride in being the first caucus in the nation; a distinction that allows them to go before New Hampshire each cycle.

I don't doubt that Clinton would be more organized in caucus states if she were to run in 2012, but could her stance on caucuses in 2008 give an opponent, say (Sen.?) Mark Warner, an opening in Iowa? As Barack Obama proved, getting off to a good start and proving the viability of your candidacy can be hugely important. Yes, Warner's record and experience speak for themselves and he would potentially be an attractive candidate anyway, but could he (or any challenger) effectively use Clinton's late 2008 caucus position against her? If the economy has rebounded and the Iraq situation has calmed somewhat, then perhaps. But if that is the case, McCain would have a strong case to take to the American electorate and any Democrat (Clinton included) would find it difficult to topple him. If those issues are still the issues of 2012 and if the major Democratic candidates have largely similar methods of dealing with them (sound familiar?), then the caucus quandary could rear its head in Iowa.

The big issue for challengers to overcome would be the idea that 2012 is Clinton's turn. Undoubtedly, that would be a tough mountain to climb. But it looked like a tough mountain to climb in 2008 as well. And then Iowa launched Obama's candidacy. Barring any changes to the rules, though, Iowa will still have the first caucus in 2012.


Recent Posts:
Rules Matter...but Luck Does Too

The Electoral College Maps (5/21/08)

Colorado Congressional District Caucuses Final Tally: 67% of the Vote, 64% of the Delegates

5 comments:

Robert said...

Granted your assumptions, I agree that she would be the prohibitive front runner, but again she was that this year. I don't think that Iowa voters would hold it against her as long as she developed a strong organization. I think where she is going to be vulnerable is with African-American voters. She will need to work hard to get back that faction of the party.

Josh Putnam said...

That she will. South Carolina (and other Southern states on Super Tuesday) would prove an interesting test of that.

Paul Gurian said...

A week is a long time in politics. Four years is nearly an eternity. IF... all of the assumptions hold true, then Josh's comments hit the main points of a potential Democratic nomination race. However, there are so many unknowns: the war, the economy, whether the incumbent is popular, whether he's running for re-election, new issues that arise, etc. Even if we assume that things are pretty much the same in four years as they are now, the primary process is unstable and only semi-predictable. OK, with all those caveats, here's my two cents: Clinton in 2012 would not be regarded in the same way as she is now. I suspect that her gender would be less of an issue, that her campaign (as Josh implied) would have learned from its mistakes, and that (if she runs) she would have spent another 4 years laying the groundwork for an unstoppable campaign. I believe that running against almost anyone other than Obama, Clinton would have won this year. But who knows if someone will emerge as the "rock star" candidate of 2012? How many of us in 2004 foresaw Obama? Or, in 2000 Dean, in 1996 GWBush, in 1988 Bill Clinton...

Josh Putnam said...

Did you intentionally leave Bob Dole off your list of "rock star" candidates, Paul? Who could have foreseen his meteoric 1996 rise in 1992?

Seriously though, I think you're right on in your assessment. And if I could increase the font size of your "IF" I would because that's how big these ifs are.

This gender issue still perplexes me. I agree with you that gender would play even less of a role in 2012 than it has in 2008, but how much did it (negatively) affect Clinton in this current race? [This is going to send me off to look at the polls.] Hillary Clinton just doesn't offer a good test of gender effects because of her last name. I will say that we would hear far fewer mentions of Clinton potentially being the "first woman president" should she run in 2012, and that would be due to a combination of a couple of things. That story would be old in 2012. Plus, Clinton disproved some of the gender myths during this cycle. But were they gender myths or Clinton gender myths.

Mark Silva with The Chicago Tribune had a good story up this morning examining women on the presidential track (governors, senators, etc.) now who could potentially work their way up. It's a good read.

Robert said...

I remember hearing in 1988 that there was an up-and-coming governor of Arkansas who would be a candidate for President. I was excited to hear that he was going to be speaking at the convention to introduce Dukakis. I listened and concluded that there was no way he would make it after that disastrous speech. I was at a professional meeting (Food Science not Political Science), and a colleague and mentor from Arkansas who told me to watch because Bill Clinton would become President one day. I didn't believe it, but he was right and I was wrong.

In early 1975 I took a few days off my duty on the USS Blakely to go down to the University of Florida to make arrangements for my MS degree. While on campus I was overwhelmed by the Jimmy Carter shirts and campaigning I was seeing that early in the process. I went back to the Blakely and announced in the wardroom at supper that Jimmy Carter was mounting an impressive campaign. My Captain and Executive Officer, both from New York, had heard of Carter and assured me that he had no chance as New Yorkers wouldn't vote for anyone from Georgia.

You are right, Paul. It is very difficult if not impossible to predict what will happen in four years, but it sure is fun to think about it.

Josh, I think Clinton showed that gender is not a significant barrier. I agree with you, Paul, that Obama was a phenom that happened to be a the right place at the right time with a brilliant campaign.

One more thing. Pat Buchanan was talking on one of the primary night analysis about the brilliance of Obama's speech at the 2004 convention. He made a statement that men were more likely to make great speeches than women. I was surprised that he didn't get some flack for the statement or anyone mentioning Barbara Jordan.