How Hillary Clinton Escapes the 2014 Trap

It’s a perilous time for the Democratic front-runner, but she’s got a way to wield influence while avoiding blame.

Democratic presidential hopeful New York Senator Hillary Clinton and her daughter Chelsea Clinton (C) listen as former US president Bill Clinton speaks, at a campaign event at W.H. Lyon Fairgrounds in Sioux Falls, South Dakota on June 2, 2008.  
AFP/Getty Images
Alex Seitz-Wald
See more stories about...
Alex Seitz-Wald
April 3, 2014, 5 p.m.

Hil­lary Clin­ton’s got a schedul­ing prob­lem. To make it to 2016, she must first tra­verse 2014 and some­how avoid the twin traps that seem destined to hurt her as a pres­id­en­tial can­did­ate.

If she comes to the aid of needy Demo­crats, she’ll be cri­ti­cized for steal­ing the head­lines when she shows up on the stump. If she keeps her powder dry, the party’s voters will lam­bast her if Demo­crats are clobbered and Sen­ate con­trol shifts to the GOP.

How can this once-bit­ten, twice-shy pre­sumed can­did­ate nav­ig­ate such a catch-22? Enter Bill.

There are three people in the Demo­crat­ic Party who are in a fun­drais­ing class un­to them­selves. One of them is the pres­id­ent. The oth­er two are named Clin­ton.

Bill Clin­ton can go where his wife can­not or prefers not to, gen­er­at­ing cash, me­dia at­ten­tion, and good­will for Demo­crat­ic can­did­ates wherever he brings his Arkan­sas drawl.

That’s a fa­mili­al ad­vant­age no oth­er can­did­ate, Re­pub­lic­an or Demo­crat, can match. If only she would take ad­vant­age of it.

“Every­one for years talked about how Al Gore made this huge mis­take in 2000 by not us­ing the pres­id­ent that year. But then [Hil­lary’s cam­paign] did the same thing in 2008,” says a former Clin­ton cam­paign aide. There was a “pro­act­ive” ef­fort to side­line the former pres­id­ent six years ago, the aide said, on the the­ory that “she needed to be her own per­son and shut that part of the world out.”

A lot has changed since then. Clin­ton has moved out of her hus­band’s shad­ow, be­com­ing something more than a by-product of his ad­min­is­tra­tion. And Bill has be­come a bet­ter sur­rog­ate. In fact, after hurt­ing him­self and his wife in 2008 with a series of con­tro­ver­sial com­ments about Barack Obama’s can­did­acy, he proved his value to the pres­id­ent and the party four years later. In­deed, Bill Clin­ton today is widely con­sidered the best sur­rog­ate in the party.

“I think they learned the hard way last time, and I don’t think they’ll make the same mis­take again,” the former aide said.

Demo­crats should hope so, be­cause it really mat­ters. A re­cent NBC/Wall Street Journ­al poll found that an en­dorse­ment from Bill has a big­ger im­pact than one from Hil­lary or Obama. Ac­cord­ing to the sur­vey, 37 per­cent of voters said they were more likely to vote for a can­did­ate if he or she has Bill Clin­ton’s back­ing. An Obama en­dorse­ment made only 22 per­cent of voters more likely to back a can­did­ate, while Hil­lary Clin­ton’s sup­port made only 25 per­cent of voters more likely to vote for that con­tender.

In fact, Bill makes such a good sur­rog­ate that Re­pub­lic­ans are already try­ing to neut­ral­ize him. Some Demo­crats guess this was Rand Paul’s aim when he dredged up the former pres­id­ent’s re­la­tion­ship with Mon­ica Lew­in­sky in the weeks be­fore Bill was to cam­paign against Ken­tucky’s oth­er sen­at­or — Minor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell.

And Bill Clin­ton is just get­ting star­ted. In ad­di­tion to com­ing out for Mc­Con­nell’s chal­lenger, Al­is­on Lun­der­gan Grimes, he has cam­paigned for Demo­crat­ic Sen. Mark Pry­or, who is fa­cing a tough reelec­tion bid in Arkan­sas. He’s also in­ter­vened in lower-pro­file races to help long­time friends of the fam­ily, such as Mar­jor­ie Mar­gol­ies, Chelsea Clin­ton’s moth­er-in-law, who is in a heated primary for a Pennsylvania House seat, and Seth Magazin­er, the son of Clin­ton aide Ira Magazin­er, who is run­ning for treas­urer in Rhode Is­land.

Those be­ne­fit­ing from his ap­pear­ances cer­tainly seem sat­is­fied with hav­ing the stand-in. “I haven’t heard any­body say we need Hil­lary in­stead of Bill,” says Sam Roeck­er, the cam­paign man­ager for Dave O’Bri­en, a Demo­crat­ic con­gres­sion­al can­did­ate in Iowa — a state Hil­lary Clin­ton simply can­not enter if she really in­tends to keep a low pro­file this far out from 2016. “He’s a great sur­rog­ate for Hil­lary and any oth­er Demo­crat. He has a really broad ap­peal that not a lot of oth­er sur­rog­ates have,” Roeck­er adds.

Some close to Hil­lary Clin­ton’s or­bit ex­pect she’ll put a toe in­to the midterm wa­ters be­fore diving more deeply after her book is pub­lished this sum­mer. Cer­tainly, she’s still use­ful to Demo­crats via be­hind-the-scenes fun­drais­ing or lend­ing her name to email so­li­cit­a­tions.

And it’s here that the Clin­tons could com­ple­ment one an­oth­er. “I could see Bill cam­paign­ing for someone, and Hil­lary hap­pens to be in the same state at a fun­draiser or giv­ing a policy speech, but it doesn’t make sense to me for her to be on stage,” said an­oth­er Wash­ing­ton Demo­crat­ic op­er­at­ive not in­volved in Clin­ton­land.

Be­cause when Hil­lary cam­paigns for someone, it will be seen as a means to boost her­self. When Bill stumps for a can­did­ate, it will be seen more as an end un­to it­self.

Ex­cept, of course, when it also helps his wife.

What We're Following See More »
A DARK CLOUD OVER TRUMP?
Snowstorm Could Impact Primary Turnout
2 days ago
THE LATEST

A snowstorm is supposed to hit New Hampshire today and “linger into Primary Tuesday.” GOP consultant Ron Kaufman said lower turnout should help candidates who have spent a lot of time in the state tending to retail politicking. Donald Trump “has acknowledged that he needs to step up his ground-game, and a heavy snowfall could depress his figures relative to more organized candidates.”

Source:
IN CASE OF EMERGENCY
A Shake-Up in the Offing in the Clinton Camp?
1 days ago
THE DETAILS

Anticipating a primary loss in New Hampshire on Tuesday, Hillary and Bill Clinton “are considering staffing and strategy changes” to their campaign. Sources tell Politico that the Clintons are likely to layer over top officials with experienced talent, rather than fire their staff en masse.

Source:
THE LAST ROUND OF NEW HAMPSHIRE POLLS
Trump Is Still Ahead, but Who’s in Second?
1 days ago
THE LATEST

We may not be talking about New Hampshire primary polls for another three-and-a-half years, so here goes:

  • American Research Group’s tracking poll has Donald Trump in the lead with 30% support, followed by Marco Rubio and John Kasich tying for second place at 16%. On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders leads Hillary Clinton 53%-41%.
  • The 7 News/UMass Lowell tracking poll has Trump way out front with 34%, followed by Rubio and Ted Cruz with 13% apiece. Among the Democrats, Sanders is in front 56%-40%.
  • A Gravis poll puts Trump ahead with 28%, followed by Kasich with 17% and Rubio with 15%.
IT’S ALL ABOUT SECOND PLACE
CNN Calls the Primary for Sanders and Trump
21 hours ago
THE LATEST

Well that didn’t take long. CNN has already declared Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump the winners of the New Hampshire primary, leaving the rest of the candidates to fight for the scraps. Five minutes later, the Associated Press echoed CNN’s call.

Source:
×