Could Sanders Be Trouble for Hillary?

DC Politics Ideas and Issues National Politics

abc_bernie_sanders_generic_drugs_mt_141121_16x9_992New Orleans   There was a “gee-whiz” report from Iowa that Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont, running for President as a Democrat, was drawing huge crowds in this early primary state, out pacing all other candidates from either party.   He saw 700 in Davenport, one of the larger cities in Iowa.   He drew 300 to a rally in a small town with a total population of about 250 people.  The message of the story was encapsulated in a report of an Iowa Democratic Party official calling the Clinton campaign and telling them they needed to get their candidate on the ground as fast as possible.

There was another recent “gosh-darn” report that the Clinton campaign and its super-Pac buddies were having trouble firing up the enthusiasm from their own Daddy Warbucks types to write $100 million checks to go toe-to-toe with the willingness of Republican billionaires to do so.  The message of that tale was that Hillary didn’t have the new car shine, the “wow-factor” that a fresher faced Obama-type candidate had inhabited in Hollywood and elsewhere.

So what do we have here more than a year away from the convention?  A real horse race to the finish?  A warning notice that no matter what the general election is going to be a greenwashing disaster?  Or, just the usual early manipulative hype?

A colleague astutely warns that Sanders will give Clinton some severe headaches in Iowa and New Hampshire, noting that decades of experience running statewide in Vermont, another rural, overwhelmingly white state with an older demographer, had given him the chops and expertise in rural and agricultural issues that would she would underestimate at her peril.  My in-box is also flooded with messages from labor activists believing Sanders’ record for workers and unions has earned support that others might only dream of.   The so-called experts argue that if Clinton wins in Iowa by a margin less than 20%, she’s damaged, so who knows.  If I were a handicapper, I would argue that Sanders could be a fast starter, but a longshot to finish in the money.

More soberly, my bet would be that Clinton is delighted to have Sanders in the race so that the left can be defined, both directly and indirectly by her campaign, more marginally and more determinedly as anyone but Hillary.  The notion that Sanders is going to be able to pull Clinton to the left is wish-dreaming in my view.  Polls on same-sex, Latino positions on immigration, and inequality have pulled her as little “p” populist as we’re going to hear.  The free ride she’s getting
from what’s left of “big” labor on her non-position on fast track and the Trans Pacific Partnership trade negotiations is a good example of the slight pressure for her to stand up and stand out.  Hillary wants to be fat and sassy in the middle of the road which is where she believes victory will lie in November 2016, and liberal institutions seems committed to helping her do that.    I was surprised to hear recently that Service Employees International Union, one of the biggest still in the field, was pressing their board for an early endorsement for Hillary in
their June meeting.

The rush to the general election though is not going to excite the voting public though and a “ho-hum for Hillary” campaign means a depressed turnout in general which has an unshakeable smell of death about it.  That’s a real worry even for the political pros and professional donation bundlers.  If Sanders can light a spark, while Clinton slogs through the motions, lightning could strike and shake the system enough to either light a fire under Clinton finally and force her to finally change gears and move off the middle or open the way for him or someone to break the ground to win, rather than continue on the current path to defeat.

This is still politics where stranger things have happened.   And, despite all the money and punditry, there will be times coming soon where real people cast real ballots and finally have a say about all of these shenanigans.