Earlier this week, Larry J. Sabato, the director of the University of Virginia's Center For Politics, focused his Crystal Ball column on Hillary Clinton's weaknesses in her race for the White House in 2008. Now I like Larry Sabato, and I read his column often and enjoyed the latest book he edited, but I found this column to be a pretty inaccurate and biased piece. It relies heavily on conjecture, and while predicting is certainly part of a crystal ball gazer/political analyst's job, I was surprised that Sabato rarely backed up his contentions with evidence, such as a poll. What follows is a rebuttal of Sabato's main points.
In the fifth paragraph of the column (the first four deal largely with downplaying Clinton's early success) Sabato writes that "many Democrats--including African-American Dems--are worried that America isn't 'ready' for a black President. (Why America would be ready for a woman and not an African American is a mystery to the Crystal Ball.)" Hmm. Could the fact that, according to the 2006 exit poll, women make up 51% of the electorate, while African-Americans constituted 10%, be a factor? It's a heck of a lot easier to win as a minority when, for electoral purposes, you're not actually a minority.
Sabato then begins a series of bullet points on Hillary Clinton's weaknesses. First, she is "cold, calculating, and ruthless." Yawn. Later in the first bullet he writes that "almost every voter now has heard something about her leading role in covering up for her husband's serial infidelities over the decades. This is an unusual role for a spouse, even in the twisted world of politics. Most normal people cannot fathom it, except in the context of a supposed 'corrupt bargain' between two power-hungry individuals." These are serious allegations for Sabato to make, ones that rests largely on poorly sourced claims from Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta's latest hatchet job, as well as Carl Bernstein's. In fact, his reference to a "corrupt bargain" between the couple is based directly on a debunked claim from Gerth and Van Natta's book Her Way.
Sabato's next bullet claims that Clinton's high negatives will dramatically hinder her campaign. He writes that "[i]n many surveys, Clinton runs 3-5 percentage points worse than the other widely known Democratic candidates, Obama and Gore, when matched up against the best-known Republican presidential candidates for November 2008." That is true for some polls, but not for others. In a poll I highlighted yesterday, Clinton has more or less the same numbers against the GOP as the rest of the Democratic field. More importantly, Hillary Clinton has been able to weather attacks from the Republican machine for fifteen years now and is still able to out poll the GOP frontrunners. This is a point Sabato admits later in his column, while observing the "muted reactions" that voters have had to the latest barrage of anti-Clinton books. The fact is that voters have heard most of the slime that has been thrown at Senator Clinton, but is still unaware of many of her accomplishments. I would be surprised if, for instance, many people knew about her work at the Children's Defense Fund or the role she played in supporting the very successful State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), as first lady. These are things that will be highlighted by her campaign as the election cycle progresses. Evidence of Senator Clinton's ability to win over moderate and conservative voters who are predisposed to be suspicious of her can be found in New York. After being attacked as a carpet bagger throughout the 2000 senate race, Clinton won the race 55%-43%. According to the Almanac of American Politics 2002, Clinton lost in traditionally conservative upstate New York 51%-47%. Not a bad showing, but nothing spectacular. In 2006 however, after voters had seen her record of competence and had gotten to know her better, she carried all but four of New York's sixty-two counties and won the race with 67% of the vote. Most impressively, she posted a tremendous showing in upstate New York, winning 61% of the vote. She also won the support of one in five Republican voters.
In a later bullet, Sabato writes that Clinton "would be the third deeply polarizing President in a row, following her husband's divisive and partially wasted tenure and George W. Bush's deeply disappointing turn at bat." Leaving aside the slight at Bill Clinton (whose presidency is currently considered "good" by 71% of the country), there isn't a whole lot of proof for Sabato's statement. Clinton could be polarizing, or she could not be. Again, if her time as New York senator is any indication, she may have the ability to win over some Republicans and moderates. Sabato also thinks that "partisan warfare would be at fever pitch from Day One" of a Hillary Clinton presidency. This conveniently ignores Clinton's ability to reach across the aisle in her time as a senator, working with and earning praise from such conservatives as South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, whom she has teamed up with to tackle issues such as detainee rights and improved health care technology.
After writing that "Democrats would probably pay a sizeable price throughout the 2010 [elections] for a Clinton victory in 2008," a statement that involves an enormous amount of conjecture and guess work, even for a political analyst, Sabato goes on to obsess of the Clinton "scandals" despite noting the public's lack of interest in them. In case you've forgotten how the American people felt about the Clinton impeachment, this should catch you up a bit.
Finally, Sabato bemoans that no one in the press is out there asking the tough questions about the Clintons' that he so bravely dares to put forth. He asks concludes by sanctimoniously stating that "[w]e don't pretend to have the answers. But we are shocked and dismayed that more people aren't even bothering to ask the questions." (The "we" here, refers to the Crystal Ball.) Huh? Let's see Chris Matthews spends every single night obsessing on Hardball about the Clintons' marriage and the possibility of another scandal. Mara Liasson goes on Fox News Sunday and claims that all the Republican candidates beat Hillary, when they don't. The list goes on and on.
Larry Sabato has every right to raise fair points about Hillary Clinton's potential stumbling blocks in 2008, and there are some. But plenty of the claims he makes in this column suggest that he's looking through a pretty foggy crystal ball.