Writing from Des Moines on the night of the Iowa caucuses after seeing loser Hillary Clinton address demoralized supporters and Barack Obama electrify thousands of his fans, I confidently declared: “the era of the Clintons is over.”
More than five months later, Clinton finally did drop out of the race. But now I’m no longer convinced that her stunning defeat actually represents the last gasp of the Clintons in presidential politics.
For much of the Democratic nomination battle, I figured that because Hillary went into the primary season as a prohibitive favorite to win the nomination, a defeat would represent such a profound rejection of Clintonism that she would never be able to mount a credible campaign again and probably wouldn’t even try.
However, considering that Clinton carried on her campaign for months after it was clear she was all but mathematically eliminated, there should be no doubt that Clinton’s presidential ambitions are deep enough for her to make another attempt in 2012, should Obama lose to John McCain this fall. And if Obama does lose, Clinton has already set the stage for the biggest “I told you so” in political history.
To be sure, there are good arguments for why Clinton wouldn’t win in four years. By dragging out the Democratic race, Clinton no doubt burned bridges within the Democratic Party. This problem was exacerbated by a steady flow of comments from both her and Bill that ranged from offensive to bizarre.
Should Obama lose this November, many Democrats will surely lay the blame at the Clintons’ doorstep.
BUT WHILE THE MEDIA, liberal bloggers, and a good portion of the Democratic electorate had run out of patience with the Clintons by the end of February, many Democrats didn’t seem to mind.
Clinton actually did better than Obama in the last three and a half months in the race. Despite constant reminders that she had no realistic chance of winning the nomination, she won Ohio, Texas, Pennsylvania, and Obama’s neighboring state of Indiana.
She obliterated Obama in Kentucky and West Virginia in the weeks after NBC’s Tim Russert declared Obama the nominee. And even as Obama was being crowned the presumptive nominee last Tuesday, Clinton beat him in South Dakota.
Given that her support among women, the elderly, and working class whites proved so resilient during this campaign, there’s every reason to believe that these groups could provide a strong foundation to run on four years from now. She can especially appeal to Democratic female voters that it’s now her turn.
“Although we weren’t able to shatter that highest, hardest glass ceiling this time, thanks to you, it’s got about 18 million cracks in it,” Clinton said in her Saturday concession speech, adding “the path will be a little easier next time.”
Also keep in mind that it’s unlikely that next time around she would face an opponent capable of garnering more than 90 percent of the black vote.
ALTHOUGH OBAMA DID triumph over the Clinton machine, it says something that it took an utter phenomenon for the Clintons to lose.
Down the stretch of the campaign, Bill was increasingly portrayed as being a buffoon, drawing headlines for his red-faced tirades and obsession with the 1990s. Yet he continued to draw large and enthusiastic crowds wherever he went. Even though Clinton ended the campaign in debt, she still raised more than $225 million.
And despite the frustration of Democratic Party insiders about the fact that the race was dragging on, superdelegates who had the power to end the race months earlier, held out until June in deference to the Clintons.
In four years, Clinton will have more time in the Senate to carve out her own political identity so that she won’t have to lean as heavily on her husband’s accomplishments in her campaign.
Going into the race without the “inevitable” label will help set more realistic expectations. Had she not been so heavily favored, Obama’s victory in Iowa would not have represented the political earthquake it did in this election.
All of this, of course, is premised on Obama losing this November. But if he wins? Well, Hillary will only be 69 in 2016.