The rise and fall of Hillary Clinton |

The rise and fall of Hillary Clinton

Forty-seven percent. That is the hurdle that has stood in front of Hillary Clinton since the day she announced her intention to run for president.

Forty-seven percent is the portion of Americans who have a negative opinion of Clinton, and getting them to change their minds is extremely difficult.

Not that she hasn’t tried. Her campaign began with an effort to “reintroduce herself to the American people,” and her claims that she was the most famous person Americans didn’t know.

How did that work out?

Overcoming that 47 percent is not an insurmountable task. George W. Bush won both his presidential elections with 48 percent of voters casting their ballots for his opponents. But going into a race knowing that she had 47 percent of the people against her meant that Clinton had to run a perfect campaign. There was no room for slippage of support, gaffes that might push more voters to oppose her.

And for a while, it looked like she was doing just that. Early in this contest, she was positioned as the front-runner, always on message and riding high above the rest of the field. She was the New England Patriots of presidential candidates.

But then along came Barack Obama. More of a movement than a campaign, Obama created a real challenge to Clinton. And when they lined up to battle, the vaunted Clinton Machine fell apart.

These messy primary affairs do have a purpose. They test a candidate for the real game in November. And for Democrats, it looks like they were lucky they didn’t buy into the Clinton hype. Not only is she getting beat by a political newcomer with a funny name, her campaign may go down as one of the worst in modern times. Her strategy was to run as the heir apparent, rack up big victories in Iowa and New Hampshire, and seal the deal on Super Tuesday. But Hillary’s campaign took a body blow in Iowa and fell apart after Super Tuesday. They had no contingency plans for dealing with Obama’s surge.

Running a country is far more difficult than running a political organization, so one has to question how Hillary would fare as president if she managed the White House the same way she did her campaign.

Texas is an example of how screwed up the Clinton campaign is. Clinton’s people declared this was a state she would win big and swing the momentum back their way. Then they actually went to Texas and found out that because of the weird way delegates are awarded there, they had little chance of any turnaround. Even a win in the popular vote for Clinton might give Obama more delegates.

This was information the campaign should have known a long time ago. Clinton spent too many years putting together this campaign, and going through the process twice with her husband, for these kinds of slip-ups to be happening.

The race isn’t quite over, but the numbers aren’t looking good. According to calculations from NBC’s Tim Russert, Clinton would need to win 65 percent of the vote in the big remaining states (Texas, Ohio and Pennsylvania) to have a chance at beating Obama. And in Texas, polls show the two candidates in almost a dead heat. How can she swing 15 percent of the vote in two weeks?

Her only chance to win the nomination now is to go negative, very negative. She would need to channel Bush’s Brain Karl Rove and kneecap Obama. But going negative will make her 47 percent disapproval number go up as well. Sure, she might win the nomination, but doing so could lead to her sitting at home next January watching John McCain taking the oath of office.

You learn more about a candidate when they lose than when they win. With Hillary losing now, will she show herself to be the champion of the people who puts aside personal gain for the good of her party and country? Or will she be the selfish, ambition-driven monster her opponents have painted her as?

In many ways, losing this contest might be the best thing that ever happened to Hillary Clinton’s political career. It could give her the chance to truly remake herself, for her to step out of the shadow of Bill Clinton, and maybe in eight more years, she’ll be ready on Day One.


” Kirk Caraway writes for Swift Communications, Inc. He can be reached through his blog at

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