PASADENA, Calif., December 31, 2014 — With only 677 days left until the 2016 elections, the presidential race is heating up. Most major candidates will announce their plans in the early spring.
The latest CNN poll, released on Monday, shows Democrat Hillary Clinton comfortably ahead of her closest Republican rival, Jeb Bush, by 13 points. She dominates the race in her own party with 48 percent support; no other Democrat is in the double digits.
It is far too early to read deeply into the poll numbers; not one candidate has officially entered the race, and a lot can change between now and November 2016. That doesn’t mean that there is a shortage of tea leaves to read.
Jeb Bush is the first Republican challenger to narrow the wide gap that exists between Hillary and the GOP field. His recent announcement that he was seriously considering a presidential run and the release of thousands of his emails from his time as Florida governor have pushed him ahead in the polls. The GOP field will be crowded, and conventional wisdom says that the front runner will change several times before it’s over. But Jeb has methodically positioned himself as Hillary’s top adversary for now.
If Hillary Clinton were completely honest with herself, she would say that 2014 did not go as well as she would have liked. Her rainbow tour flopped. Her 13 point lead is significant, but not uncommon at this point. Her party is not rallying around her as their candidate. Several prominent liberal voices are trying hard to find an alternative.
Hillary’s strongest asset is name recognition. Her long career in politics creates the aura of experience needed to be president, and she is a comfortably known quantity. But over the past few weeks, that appears to be working against her. Former Hillary 2008 supporter Audrey Blondin went on Connecticut television last week and said, “I would like to say that Elizabeth, Senator Warren, is a 21st century candidate. Senator Clinton, Secretary Clinton, is more of a 20th century candidate.”
Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., has emerged as a serious alternative to Clinton among Democrats, but she has said several times she isn’t running. That remains to be seen.
The pressure to run will grow as more liberals pledge their support to her. It’s a near-daily occurrence for current Obama supporters to declare their support for Warren. Earlier this month, a group of 300 Obama staffers wrote a letter to Warren urging her to run. The excitement factor, for now, belongs to Warren.
Blondin is the latest in a long line of liberals to question Hillary’s presidential timbre. The list includes David Axelrod, Van Jones, Bill Richardson, and Tom Harkin.
The fatigue that the average voter might feel toward toward the Clinton name applies the Bush name, too. Both names represent the establishment. Hillary and Jeb represent the two most prominent families in U.S. politics today. Both will have trouble distancing themselves from the politics of the last 20 years to stand for change.
Hillary’s case is harder, though; she has been here before. She was all but guaranteed the nomination in 2008, but her campaign lacked the excitement that was exuded by Senator Obama. She ran on a record that has only gotten worse since 2008. Her time at the State Department ties her firmly to the foreign policy of the current administration, which is not popular.
The “20th century candidate” jab, which was also used by potential GOP candidate Marco Rubio, is a clear reference to the belief that Hillary brings nothing new to the table. Given the chance to choose her, voters chose someone else in 2008. Why would that change now, after an unpopular Obama presidency, an overwhelming Republican midterm win, and Clinton’s own questionable record?
David Axelrod told MSNBC’s Morning Joe, “You hear ‘Ready for Hillary’; it’s like, ready for what?” That’s the million-dollar question that pundits on both sides of the aisle are asking.
The public may be losing its appetite for Hillary as well. Her new book, for which she received a $14 million advance, added to her 2014 woes by flopping at the bookstores worse than sales of Madonna’s pre-released songs (though by many accounts the Madonna songs are actually good). Adding insult to injury, the worst-selling issue of Time Magazine in 2014 was the one with Hillary on the cover.
Hillary was very active on the campaign trail during the 2014 midterms, and her impact was minor. Her “rock-star” status was nowhere to be found. She actively stumped for 25 candidates, and 14 of them lost, including high-profile races in Wisconsin, Arkansas, and Louisiana. That’s a mediocre result at best.
Hillary’s record raises a lot of questions, for instance with regard to Benghazi, but her most formidable obstacles will be creating excitement and identifying with the average American. She needs to bring something new to the discussion other than just her extensive political background. In fact, it’s her political background that’s holding her back, not just with Republicans, but with her base as well.