Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has a difficult balancing act ahead if she ends up running for president — staying close enough to President Barack Obama to keep his still-loyal Democratic base happy while putting space between herself and his policies, writes political adviser Douglas Schoen.
Clinton knows she will have to secure the party's base, which left her during the 2008 primaries in favor of Obama, Schoen writes in an opinion piece for The Wall Street Journal.
She's already been signaling her plans to stick closely to many of the party's priorities. For example, she's spoken publicly about extending the Voting Rights Act and her support for comprehensive immigration reform.
However, as Obama's former secretary of state, she's linked politically with him while his policies have caused his approval ratings to plummet, said Schoen, who said that association could give her trouble when it comes to winning the support of independents.
But Clinton has a powerful ally on her side — her husband, former President Bill Clinton, whose popularity still remains high decades after he left office.
He took steps on Nov. 12 to distance himself and Hillary
from Obamacare by calling on Obama to "honor the commitment the federal government made to those people and let them keep what they got," and he gave cover to House Democrats who voted for Republican Rep. Fred Upton's plan to continue offering plans that had been canceled, said Schoen.
Further, the former president a few days later endorsed Obama and his healthcare plan through a "CNN en Español" interview, maintaining those vital party ties as well.
"That isn't to say Mr. Clinton's intervention will be enough to immunize his wife from criticism," said Schoen in the Journal, pointing out that her advocacy for healthcare reform during the first years of her husband's presidency will "almost certainly brand her as the mother of Obamacare."
Hillary Clinton will also face problems because of her foreign-policy record, or rather, lack of one. She had no significant achievements while in office, while her successor, John Kerry, has hammered out an interim agreement with Iran to limit its nuclear program.
In addition, Schoen said, Clinton still faces questions about the attack on the U.S. embassy
in Benghazi, Libya.
"During the 2008 primary campaign, Mrs. Clinton said she was the candidate best equipped to answer the 3 a.m. emergency phone call," said Schoen. "Americans will want to know how she answered that call in Libya."
She may also face problems if a strong Republican contender is put up to run against her, said Schoen. Polls show that while she carried a slight lead in early surveys, the numbers dropped
when voters also took New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie under consideration.
"Against a Republican contender with broad popularity and appeal, Mrs. Clinton is vulnerable and would start such a campaign without a clear advantage," Schoen wrote in the Journal.
But her husband's Obamacare comments, combined with criticism of other policies such as the lack of intervention in Syria, could continue to put distance between Hillary and Obama's policies as the elections near.
"The artful dance the Clintons have begun will only become more elaborate as 2016 approaches," said Schoen, who was a pollster for Bill Clinton from 1994-2000.
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