June 23, 2015 — Over the weekend, Democratic strategist Maria Cardona was giving undue credence to Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) leftward challenge to Hillary Clinton, all the while claiming to support the latter candidate. She even stated on the ABC This Week program that Sanders could actually upset Clinton in the first two voting states, Iowa and New Hampshire.
The statement tells us a couple of things. First, if Cardona’s comments were part of a defined campaign strategy, they would signal a move typical of Clinton political efforts. The many national Clinton presidential quests have always handled adversity by directly addressing a particular issue or area of weakness, and then creating a spin opposite of conventional perception.
For example, the pre-Clinton campaign leaked months ago that the former Secretary of State and First Lady’s brain trust believe that former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush would be the strongest candidate the Republicans could field against Hillary Clinton. They site his fundraising ability and universal name identification as the reasons. Translation: Bush is exactly who the Clinton strategists want to run against. In a race about the past, early polling suggests that the Clinton era beats the Bush era, especially during the period of President George W. Bush. In fact, the Jeb Bush profile is one with which the Clinton people are very comfortable in painting contrast.
Secondly, Clinton, in her campaign kick-off announcement last week, repeatedly referred to the Republican candidates as being from the past, at least in an ideological context. By inference, the former First Lady was suggesting that she is the candidate of the future. Translation: it is clear their internal surveys find that respondents recognize the 67-year-old politician as the candidate from the past, and such is hurting her in match-ups with fresher Republican candidates. Therefore, it becomes very important to identify her with the future.
Cardona’s comments are beginning to lay the groundwork for 55-plus percent Clinton victories instead of the candidate exceeding 65 percent. Could Sen. Sanders upset Clinton in Iowa and New Hampshire? Hardly. Could he cut into her victory percentage, thereby putting Clinton in position to explain closer-than-expected wins as oppose to blowouts? Yes, he could.
In fact, what the polls are clearly showing, is that Sen. Sanders is attracting the base Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) Democratic voter. If you look at some of the early polling – the current Morning Consult Iowa Democratic poll released last week is a good example – Sanders merely gets the early Warren vote, a result Hillary Clinton wants. The Vermont senator was willing to slip into the hard left zone – as a self-proclaimed socialist, certainly a place where he has spent his whole career – after it became clear that Sen. Warren was not going to pursue a 2016 White House run.
Sanders’ 54-16 percent deficit in Iowa is virtually the same percentages that Warren was attracting against Clinton when pollsters would add their names to ballot test questions. Therefore, Sanders is merely getting the party’s far left base vote, and will have a hard time expanding his preference formula.
For her part, Clinton can now use Sanders as a foil. Build him up into a credible opponent because first, she must dash to the left in an attempt to keep his vote attraction down and make her acceptable to the party base and excite them for the general election. Then, the act of defeating the more liberal Sanders will better position her in the fall, against whomever the Republicans nominate.
Though Sen. Sanders may score within 10-12 points of the former First Lady in New Hampshire polling right now, his name familiarity throughout New England could well help him post support numbers beyond the party’s left faction. But, he won’t come anywhere close to defeating Hillary Clinton regardless of what her spokespeople and supporters might say.