The drumbeat has started. We first heard it concerning the Republican nomination race. By February 5th Senator John McCain had pulled ahead and it was time for former Governors Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee to politely give up. Governor Romney did; Governor Huckabee didn’t. As a result, I believe, Governor Huckabee is emerging as the stronger future GOP candidate. He’s been able to get in front of groups and gain the support of constituencies that would have been impossible if he had called it quits after Super Tuesday.
Now the gentle urgings of withdrawal are being heard in the Democratic presidential campaign. Newsweek’s Jonathan Alter suggests departing from the playing field before the Texas and Ohio primaries on March 4th, “would be the best thing imaginable for Hillary’s political career.” Robert Novak, writing in the Washington Post, puts the issue in terms of what’s good for the Democratic Party. “[T]he sooner she leaves the race, the more it will improve the party’s chances of defeating Senator John McCain in November.”
I think they’re both wrong.
As long as Senator Clinton runs a positive campaign, she’ll boost her own political standing as well as strengthen the Democratic party’s general election outlook. She’ll have an opportunity to promote her ideals, to change the public’s perception of her as a policy wonk out-of-touch with common people. Consider: if she had dropped out before the Democratic debate in Austin last week, no one would have heard her closing statement — which so potently explained the reason for her candidacy her campaign has turned it into a 60-second commercial now airing in Texas and Ohio.
At the same time, she is forcing Senator Barack Obama to refine his message and to provide the specifics that back up his soaring rhetoric. Interestingly, he’s doing just that with his own advertisement, urging voters to log onto his web site to download his 64 page “The Blueprint for Change.”
Between now and March 4th Senator Clinton should use every day to explain why she’s striving for the nation’s highest office. That means talking about her own strengths, not Senator Obama’s weaknesses. Any time spent trying to convince voters Senator Obama is unqualified to be president, she’s helping Senator John McCain and the GOP. She’s also wasting time and opportunity. Her attacks to date have been, without exception, ineffective. It’s foolish to continue a strategy that’s proven to be a failure. Unless she wants to convince voters she’s incapable of learning from her mistakes.
Just look at the media responseto her attack on Senator Obama’s brochures concerning her positions on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The press has focused attention on the issues Senator Obama hopes voters will think about, not the ones that favor her own campaign. And in scolding her opponent (“Shame on you, Barack Obama”) she distracts from her more attractive attributes — intelligence and a history of caring about those without power). Besides, she shouldn’t be the one out there attacking Senator Obama — that’s what surrogates are for. Instead, Senator Clinton needs to talk more about what she’ll do for working Americans.
Mr. Alter and Mr. Novak are right in stating that Senator Clinton’s and the Democratic party’s future depends a great deal on what Senator Clinton does in the next several days. Everything Senator Clinton does from now through the rest of the campaign shapes her political image and, perhaps, her political legacy. She can position herself as a caring leader or a down-and-dirty politician. She can keep the focus on issues Democrats, independents and swing Republicans care about or she can divert attention to petty, meaningless attacks.
Her future is in her own hands.