With the Iowa caucuses just two and half weeks away, Hillary Clinton suddenly finds herself in a hyper-competive race against Vermont Socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Hillary’s current campaign struggles inevitably invite comparisons with the 2008 campaign, when she was the presumptive frontrunner for the entire campaign until votes started to be cast. In one important way, though, her campaign is doing far worse today than it was in 2008.
Hillary’s national lead, and her standing in the first two voting states, is worse today than it was at a similar point in 2008.
At this point in 2008, Hillary still enjoyed a 20 point lead against her rivals for the nomination in national polls. Today, however, her lead over Socialist Sanders is just 8 points in the RealClearPolitics average of national polls.
It should be noted that Hillary’s nearly 20 point lead in 2008 at this point in time was against TWO credible rivals, Sens. Barack Obama and John Edwards. Today, Hillary’s only rival for the nomination is Sanders. Yet, she enjoys less than half the polling advantage.
Even with the vote split three ways in 2008, she enjoyed a stronger base of support in absolute terms than she does today against a single rival. In other words, Hillary today is up against an historic mathematical conundrum.
According to national polling at the time, Hillary was in a much stronger position in 2008 than she is today. Even so, within two weeks of that polling lead in 2008 she would be fighting, unsuccessfully, for her political life.
The head winds against her are far more powerful this year than they were 8 years ago as well. At an existential level, society has changed and is no longer willing to brush aside her husband’s past transgressions and allegations of sexual abuse against female subordinates. Neither she nor her husband are as effective on the campaign trail as they were in 2008, for the simple reason that both have aged another eight years.
More importantly, perhaps, she has a far more questionable record to defend today than she did in 2008. Setting aside questions about the legality of her use of private e-mail accounts as Secretary of State, her handling of the issue has caused a serious erosion in voter’s belief in her honesty.
A Hillary victory, at this point, would require voters to elect someone they don’t trust. That is very unlikely.
Against these fundamental challenges for Hillary, Bernie Sanders is riding a campaign wave that has grown larger, faster than the one that propelled Barack Obama into the Democrat nomination.
It should be remembered that it was only after his win in Iowa that Barack Obama began attracting the size of crowds that Sanders currently draws. Sanders has amassed on-line donors and donations at a faster pace than Obama in the 2008 campaign.
It has long been assumed that Barack Obama himself represented a kind of “perfect storm” that slammed against the Clinton campaign in 2008. Most pundits attributed Obama’s strong grass-roots campaign in 2008 to his particular biography and unique rhetorical gifts.
The faster, and in some ways more successful, trajectory of the Sanders campaign suggests a more fundamental reasons for Hillary’s fall. The voters simply don’t like her. She is the frontrunner only until any other remotely credible alternative comes along.
In 2008, Hillary battled back to a narrow win in New Hampshire after losing the Iowa caucuses. She was able to contest the nomination deep into the primaries, almost up until the Democrat convention before finally conceding defeat.
This election, Hillary’s campaign may not last that long.