Wednesday, February 20, 2008

A Train To Nowhere

There is apparently a struggle in the Hillary Clinton campaign about what their next steps should be. One side is arguing for a full on frontal attack, while the other side is arguing for a more positive campaign. The answer to which tact they chose will show if Hillary really is willing to win at all costs or whether she has any concern about the future of the Democratic Party.

At this point her message has been unable to sway enough voters to her side to tip the delegate count in her favor. If she goes negative from here on out (the scorched earth plan), she may indeed end up the victor in the Democratic primary, but it would at a tangible personal cost. Her already high negatives would undoubtedly inch higher and she may end up alienating a large portion of the very voters that she would need to win the fall. Negative campaigning has been shown to be effective in the past, but it usually works better when the opponent is from the other party. Taking down people in your own party is seen as political suicide by many political insiders. Even if you end up winning against your opponent, you end up causing a fracture inside your own party and most times leaves your campaign a loser on Election Day.

The voters in this country are clearly unhappy with the way the country has been managed for the past seven years and for the most part they blame the party that controls the White House. The Democrats therefore, are positioned very well to add seats to slim majorities in both houses of Congress. What could derail that? A bitter and divisive campaign between the two candidates for the Democratic Party nomination would go a long way to assuring that doesn’t happen. Also by attacking your opponent, you give the other party ammunition to use against that candidate in the upcoming race (assuming that the attacks don't work well enough to ensure his defeat). The rest of the party would also look none too kindly on a candidate who was willing to destroy their parties chances just to avoid a personal defeat.

Hillary could decide that the best thing to do would be to run a positive campaign (the good neighbor strategy). One that focuses on her own vision of the future and her past accomplishments and rely on the debates to show the contrast between the two candidates. If she feels her experience makes her a better candidate, then she should feel confident in allowing the American people to make an honest evaluation. If she were to win, it would show that she had the superior plan and that the majority of voters agree with her. I'm sure that she feels frustrated at this point by the fact that Obama has been given something of a free ride by the press. However if she were to adopt the Good Neighbor strategy her only recourse would be to continue to point her strong points and hope that the contrast gains her the greater share of votes. The key benefit to this strategy is that if she were to lose the nomination, she would maintain the moral authority to be perhaps the dominant democratic voice in the US Senate or position herself for another run at the presidency in 2012 if McCain were to win.

Win at all costs or preserve dignity with an eye toward the future? That's the choice that she is faced with. Of course Obama could make a major mistake in the upcoming months or her message could actually begin to break through. If either of those things happens, the Democratic Party may be spared all out catastrophe at the convention or at the polls in November.

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