Two Years From 2016: Is Hillary Stoppable?

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U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Visits China

As we pointed out last fall, 1100 days before Election Day, the fight for the presidency in 2016 was already well underway. Now, as we enter the final weeks of the midterm election fight, the 2016 nomination battle–now already a couple years old–is finally getting ready to move out into the open. But two years out from anyone casting a general election ballot, it seems like everyone is asking the same question: Is Hillary stoppable? Or, in other words, is there a candidate out there (Republican or Democratic) who can mount a serious challenge against her in 2016?

In case you still had a shadow of a doubt in your mind whether the former First Lady, U.S. Senator, presidential candidate, and Secretary of State was running—you don’t need to look much further than what transpired this weekend in Iowa. Secretary Clinton and her husband, President Bill Clinton, joined Senator Tom Harkin at his annual steak fry fundraiser in Iowa. At the event, which has for years been an important event for those looking to court key political activists in the state that hosts the first caucus of the presidential nomination contest, Secretary Clinton declared from the podium, “Hello, Iowa. I’m back.”

For those who don’t remember, Iowa wasn’t exactly a friend to Hillary Clinton in 2008: she finished third behind former vice-presidential candidate John Edwards and a much lesser known U.S. Senator–Barack Obama. This brings us back to the question at hand—is Hillary stoppable at this point? The answer is definitely yes. At about the same point in the 2008 election cycle, then-candidate Barack Obama was polling at 17% (Clinton was polling at 28%), according to an October 2006 CNN poll conducted just days after Obama said he may run for President. The point being—a lot can happen between now and Election Day. Arguably though, a candidate looking to challenge Secretary Clinton for the nomination has even more to overcome this year. Real Clear Politics Poll Average shows Clinton polling at 64.5 percent with a 54-percentage point lead over her next competitor (Vice President Biden is polling at 10 percent).

So then the question becomes whether there is a candidate, a message, and a likely confluence of events possible to enable a lesser-known candidate in the democratic field to achieve what President Obama was able to accomplish in 2008. So let’s take a quick look at the field.

First up is obviously Vice President Joe Biden who, as we pointed out, attended the Steak Fry last year. However, Biden’s candidacy is likely to be hamstrung by the administration’s low approval ratings (currently at 41% according to the latest Gallup tracking poll). The President’s low job approval ratings make it hard for a “stay the course” candidate to succeed. Then there are a couple governors who also seem likely to throw their hat in the ring: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley. But as we mentioned above, either one would have a long road ahead to mount a challenge against Secretary Clinton.

I should probably also note that Senator Elizabeth Warren’s name has frequently been mentioned in talk about 2016, but for the time being she has said she’s not running and, for now at least, I think we can take her at her word. There is also the possibility that other contenders will emerge in the coming months that could mount a larger challenge to Secretary Clinton.

And then of course, should Secretary Clinton maintain her dramatic lead and ultimately become the Democratic nominee, she could still face a serious challenge from a strong Republican nominee. Real Clear Politics already shows Clinton with a 9.3 point lead over New Jersey Governor Chis Christie and an 8.9 point lead over Senator Rand Paul in a hypothetical general election matchup. Now, a 9 point lead two years out from election day is by no means a lock on the presidency, but it certainly says that the eventual nominee could have some work to do to challenge a Democratic party united behind a candidate who didn’t face the drawn out primary fight that we saw in 2008.

If we assume for the sake of argument that everything goes well for Secretary Clinton over the next two years, we could see her easily win the democratic nomination and relatively easily overcome her Republican opponent. Ironically though, it seems like it’s the left that’s terrified of this “Clinton coronation.”

Why?

Because Hillary Clinton could become the first President in a long time who wouldn’t have to cut deals and make promises to Democratic interest groups in order to win.

Imagine a Democratic president who wasn’t beholden to labor unions, teachers unions, environmental groups, or any other Democratic-leaning interests. A blowout victory could empower Clinton to compromise in areas where previous presidents have been unable or unwilling to because they were forced to make promises to interest groups and adopt hardline views in order to fund their campaign. While such a victory could definitely lead to big changes, it might not be 100% of what Democratic voters want.

We are still more than two years out from the election, and on November 8, 2016, I may very well have to look back at this article and laugh at just how far off I was from what actually happened. Its likely that quickly after the midterms we will start to have a much better idea of how things will shake out in both nomination contests, and we may quickly find that Secretary Clinton is just as stoppable as she was in 2008. But, if not, there could be major implications in 2016 and beyond.

 

About John Wilson

John Wilson is an analytical communications professional, with a passion for sifting through data for compelling stories and insights. John started his career on Capitol Hill and chased his love of data and communications out of politics and into opinion research and public relations. John graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the George Washington University where he studied political science and statistics. Beyond work, John loves the mountains and can be found skiing or hiking in both the Sierras and the Rockies.
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