Will Hillary Clinton challenge Barack Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination?
She says no, that she never wants to run for office again. But the pressure is growing on her to change her mind as Obama continues to slide in the polls — and as the left bloc of the party and Latino and black voters become more vocal in their disapproval of the president.
And when White House spokesman Jay Carney was asked about the possibility at a press briefing on Monday, he was less than convincing with his answer.
“You’d have to ask her,” Carney stammered after Lester Kinsolving of World Net Daily posed the question. “We’re fairly confident that we need to focus on the task at hand.”
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More than 1 in 4 Democrats — 27 percent — say they want someone other than Obama to run next year according to a CNN/ORC International poll. And while Obama’s job satisfaction figures have been running at 39 percent, the latest figure for the secretary of state, albeit from March, put her with a job approval rating of 66 percent.
Talk of a Clinton run started when independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders said last month that Obama needed a challenge because he has drifted too far to the right.
“There are millions of Americans who are deeply disappointed in the president, who believe that with regard to Social Security and other things, he said one thing as a candidate and is doing something very much else as a president — who cannot believe how weak he has been for whatever reason in negotiating with Republicans,” Sanders said.
“It would do this country a good deal of service if people started thinking about candidates out there to begin contrasting a progressive agenda as opposed to what Obama believes he’s doing.”
Though Sanders did not mention Clinton by name, she is seen as the most viable Democratic challenger to Obama. She ran hard against him for the nomination in 2008 and generally has been viewed as the most able member of the administration.
Conservative commentator S.E. Cupp took it one step further in her column last week in the New York Daily News. “She'd be tough and liberal,” wrote Cupp. “But far more importantly, she'd be effective. She'd be focused. Whether or not she got signature legislation through the Congress, she'd get the country back on the right track.”
And on Tuesday, veteran correspondent Andrew Malcolm raised the issue in his blog for the Los Angeles Times.
“A challenge to Obama seems pretty far-fetched today, with his job approval hovering around 39%. Hard to imagine the loyal secretary of State, who'll turn 64 in October, abruptly resigning to mount a challenge to her current boss and onetime bitter rival,” wrote Malcolm.
“And she swears — well, actually, she just proclaims — that she'll never seek elective office again.
“But, say, winter nears and the Republicans are dominating the political news with Mitt Romney and Rick Perry duking it out.
“And August's 39% job-approval rating for the president has melted into 33% or 32%. And the economy shows no real signs of improving despite another couple of empty Obama jobs speeches calling for more spending on infrastructure because the first $787 billion didn't work.”
The feeling among Democrats that they backed the wrong horse in 2008 has been growing in recent weeks. They have become alarmed that Obama has appeared weak in dealing with Republicans especially over raising the debt ceiling and on spending cuts.
One joke going the rounds after last week’s east coast earthquake, was that Republicans demanded it be 5.9 on the Richter Scale while Obama wanted it to be 3.5, so the two sides compromised and ended up with a 5.9.
His poll figures among Latinos have fallen from 85 percent approval in 2009 to 49 percent now. His figures among African Americans remain in the 80s, but only this month Rep. Maxine Waters urged supporters to “unleash” her and other Congressional Black Caucus members so they could criticize him more harshly.
President Bill Clinton’s former press secretary Dee Dee Myers told the Washington Post, “The president has shown himself unwilling to dig in on a position. He’s for jobs, I’ve heard him say that. He’s for being the adult in the room. But beyond that, I’m not actually sure what his bottom line is.”
And North Carolina Democratic strategist Gary Pearce said, “Democrats are worried. He looks weak, he doesn’t say anything that grabs you and people are looking for some kind of magic.
“You see a yearning for a Bill Clinton-type approach and Hillary would reflect that. Obama is just a different political animal.”
Pollster Pat Caddell, who was working for President Jimmy Carter when Ted Kennedy tried to unseat Carter in 1980, said a challenge will become much more likely if the GOP wins the New York congressional seat formerly held by Anthony Weiner in a Sept. 13 special election.
“That seat is the darkest blue Democrat you can be,” he said, adding that a lot of Jewish voters there are unhappy with the Obama administration’s policies on Israel. “If the Democrats lost that seat on the 13th, that’s the kind of earthquake that would start shaking up people,” Caddell told Fox News’ Neil Cavuto on Tuesday.
Cavuto pointed out that nearly all post-war presidents who have seen their poll numbers slip have faced challenges that have fatally weakened them: Lyndon Johnson was challenged by Eugene McCarthy and soon after said he would not run again; Gerald Ford faced off with Ronald Reagan and then lost the election to Carter, and then Kennedy challenged Carter, who subsequently lost to Reagan.
Caddell said he did not expect a challenge to come from Hillary Clinton because of her position within the administration. He also said many Democrats are leery about taking on the first African American president in a primary.
A challenge is more likely to come from the left of the party, he said, mentioning the name of former Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold as a potential candidate. “If the president keeps going down, the job situation gets worse, if we have more problems this fall, at some point you are going to have people who say it’s worth showing the flag, it is worth making the case.
“The argument becomes, ‘It is time to get the president’s attention. We can’t be taken for granted and by being wishy-washy you’re going to lose anyway.’”
If Clinton does decide to run, the battle within the Democratic Party would almost certainly be even more bitterly fought than it was four years ago. During that campaign, Clinton called Obama “irresponsible and naïve,” and issued a damning campaign advertisement questioning whether he would be the right person to answer a 3 a.m. phone call alerting him to an international crisis.
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