November 16, 2013

M.D. HARMON:

Democrats may have another woman waiting in the wings for 2016

A few weeks ago, when I read that Hillary Clinton already had a virtual lock on the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, I noted that despite her obvious popularity in her party, she had some strikes against her in the “actual accomplishments” department.

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IN JANUARY: Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat from Massachusetts, left, and then-U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton talk during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee nomination hearing on Jan. 24. The hearing was to determine whether to support then-Sen. John Kerry as Clinton’s replacement for secretary.

Bloomberg News photo

That is, she has very few of them. Once you get past her titles — first lady, senator, secretary of state — there isn’t much to say, and most of what is worth noting isn’t good.

Still, a similar lack of achievement didn’t stop the current incumbent from being elected (twice), even though buyer’s remorse seems to be sinking in at last.

Indeed, Bill Clinton’s rebuke this week to President Barack Obama, telling him to keep his promise to let people retain health care policies they liked, is widely seen as a move to insulate his wife from the fiasco that is Obamacare, which has depressed Obama’s job approval rating to 39 percent in a recent poll by Quinnipiac University Polling Institute in Connecticut.

Recall, too, Hillary Clinton once had a similar “virtual lock” on the 2008 nomination. But the party recoiled from her and selected a half-term senator from a liberal state with no discernable legislative accomplishments.

In the previous column, I made the minor jest that Democrats had a potential alternative who could avoid Hillary’s retread image — Michelle Obama.

Now, however, it appears that the left wing of the party dreads another Clinton presidency so much that a different woman (one who actually holds political office, although her qualifications mimic Obama’s in 2006) just got a 10-page endorsement from the very liberal New Republic.

In a Nov. 10 column, senior editor Noam Scheiber said the party is returning to its “populist” roots. That poses problems for Hillary, who has strong, long-term ties to Wall Street financiers and Washington lobbyists.

“With the Clintons’ penchant for melodrama,” Scheiber writes, “and their checkered cast of hangers-on — one shudders to consider the embarrassments that will attend the Terry McAuliffe administration in Virginia — Clinton-era nostalgia is always a news cycle away from curdling into Clinton fatigue. Sometimes, all it takes is a single issue and a fresh face to bring the bad memories flooding back.”

Meanwhile, he says, “A majority of Democratic voters ... are angrier, more disaffected, and altogether more populist than they’ve been in years. They’ve grown fonder of regulation and more skeptical of big business. A recent Pew poll showed that voters under 30 — who skew overwhelmingly Democratic — view socialism more favorably than capitalism. Above all, Democrats are increasingly hostile to Wall Street and believe the government should rein it in.”

But fortunately, Scheiber says, the party has someone able to fill the soon-to-be-available Manolo Blahniks at the top: Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

Any candidate who challenged Clinton “would almost certainly have to be a woman, given Democrats’ desire to make history again. She would have to amass huge piles of money with relatively little effort. Above all, she would have to awaken in Democratic voters an almost evangelical passion. As it happens, there is precisely such a person. Her name is Elizabeth Warren.”

Supporting that view, The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza wrote Nov. 11 that “Clinton represents the head of the Democratic party. But Warren is its heart.”

Some analysts, however, think a challenge from Warren would merely seek to influence Hillary, not defeat her.

Alexander Bolton, writing Nov. 12 in The Hill, a political junkie’s journal, says a Warren candidacy would serve as a sea anchor to leftward, “to prevent (Clinton) from moving to the middle during a Democratic primary.”

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