The Clinton Magic Fades in Philadelphia

Chelsea Clinton’s mother-in-law loses badly in her comeback congressional bid.

WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 14: Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addresses the American Jewish Committee Global Forum 2014 May 14, 2014 in Washington, DC. The AJC held the form to discuss topics related to the Jewish communities all around the world. 
National Journal
Josh Kraushaar
May 20, 2014, 6:48 p.m.

GLEN­SIDE, PA. — As Mar­jor­ie Mar­gol­ies chit-chat­ted with voters for last-minute sup­port at a polling sta­tion in this leafy Phil­adelphia sub­urb, her cam­paign aide Dylan Mc­Garry, stand­ing nearby, had only one word on his mind as he in­tro­duced her: Clin­ton. “She’s the can­did­ate en­dorsed by Bill Clin­ton,” he routinely re­minded voters walk­ing in­to the polling sta­tion.

Mar­gol­ies, now best known as Chelsea Clin­ton’s moth­er-in-law, ran her comeback con­gres­sion­al cam­paign as a cel­eb­ra­tion of the past. The former con­gress­wo­man, who served one term rep­res­ent­ing the Phil­adelphia sub­urbs two dec­ades ago, was bet­ting that voters were hav­ing pangs of Clin­ton nos­tal­gia.

In her tele­vi­sion ad, Mar­gol­ies re­minded voters she cast the de­cis­ive vote for former Pres­id­ent Clin­ton’s budget in 1993, a de­cision that proved her Demo­crat­ic loy­alty but led to her de­feat. Hil­lary Clin­ton made her first cam­paign ap­pear­ance for Mar­gol­ies at a swank New York City fun­draiser, and Bill Clin­ton had en­thu­si­ast­ic­ally backed her a month earli­er. Her cam­paign’s Face­book feed even fea­tured a “throw­back Thursday” post last week, fea­tur­ing a 1992 photo of the former first lady cam­paign­ing with the can­did­ate.

After a very brief one-minute con­ces­sion speech, Mar­gol­ies whispered to her poll­ster, Celinda Lake, “It’s a shock.”

At times, her cam­paign rhet­or­ic even soun­ded like Hil­lary Clin­ton’s, as she talked about the need to elect more wo­men to Con­gress, the bur­den of be­ing the early front-run­ner, and her own post-polit­ic­al ca­reer work­ing at a non­gov­ern­ment­al or­gan­iz­a­tion (Wo­men’s Cam­paign In­ter­na­tion­al) help­ing wo­men around the world.

But in a sign that voters are fo­cused more on the fu­ture than the past — and a sign of the lim­it­a­tions of run­ning on Clin­ton nos­tal­gia — Brendan Boyle, an up­start 37-year-old state rep­res­ent­at­ive backed by labor, came from be­hind to hand­ily de­feat Mar­gol­ies. With 95 per­cent of pre­cincts re­port­ing, Boyle led Mar­gol­ies, 41 to 27 per­cent.

Mar­gol­ies split the sub­urb­an vote with two oth­er can­did­ates (phys­i­cian Val Arkoosh and state Sen. Daylin Leach) from Mont­gomery County, while Boyle racked up siz­able leads in the Phil­adelphia pre­cincts in the re­cently re­drawn dis­trict. After a very brief one-minute con­ces­sion speech, Mar­gol­ies whispered to her poll­ster, Celinda Lake, “It’s a shock.”

Even be­fore the bal­lots were coun­ted, Demo­crat­ic strategists in the state privately wondered why the Clin­tons didn’t do more to cam­paign for their ex­ten­ded fam­ily mem­ber. The tele­vi­sion ad Mar­gol­ies aired with the former pres­id­ent fea­tured stale foot­age from his rally in­stead of fresh video tout­ing her can­did­acy to the cam­era. Hil­lary Clin­ton’s fun­draiser wasn’t even held in the Phil­adelphia area. Neither Clin­ton cam­paigned in the state in the home stretch of the primary, even as Bill played a high-pro­file role in Terry McAul­iffe’s gubernat­ori­al vic­tory in Vir­gin­ia and en­thu­si­ast­ic­ally cam­paigned for Al­is­on Lun­der­gan Grimes’ Sen­ate cam­paign in Ken­tucky.

Sev­er­al voters in­ter­viewed said they thought the former pres­id­ent was pay­ing his debt to Mar­gol­ies for cast­ing a tie-break­ing vote for his budget in 1993, rather than provid­ing a genu­ine show of en­thu­si­asm for her cam­paign. Few said the Clin­ton en­dorse­ment played a role in their de­cision.

“Every­body knows what she did for the Clin­tons. I per­son­ally don’t think that’s a win­ner. He’s got to do it. He owes her. Doesn’t it seem like he’s help­ing pay an old debt?” said Joe Looby, a voice-over artist who was passing out sample bal­lots at his loc­al pre­cinct.

But the Clin­tons also had something at stake in the res­ults. Mar­gol­ies was the first can­did­ate Hil­lary Clin­ton en­dorsed in the 2014 cycle. Even if it was ob­lig­at­ory, it still was sig­ni­fic­ant for a politi­cian who has been wary of wad­ing in­to elect­or­al polit­ics. Mar­gol­ies was run­ning on fond memor­ies of the past — a likely ele­ment of a fu­ture Clin­ton pres­id­en­tial mes­sage.

Mar­gol­ies was run­ning on fond memor­ies of the past — a likely ele­ment of a fu­ture Clin­ton pres­id­en­tial mes­sage.

And Mar­gol­ies’s loss marked a sting­ing set­back for fe­male can­did­ates in Pennsylvania. With her de­feat, it’s un­likely there will be any fe­male mem­bers of Con­gress from the Key­stone State at the start of the new Con­gress. Rep. Allyson Schwartz, who held the seat for a dec­ade be­fore run­ning for gov­ernor, lost badly to Tom Wolf in her primary bid for statewide of­fice. EMILY’s List, which sup­ports pro-abor­tion-rights Demo­crat­ic wo­men for of­fice, be­latedly spent money in at­tack mail­ers against Boyle for his vot­ing re­cord on abor­tion in the Le­gis­lature.

“You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. They did ex­actly what we asked them to. I have run on my re­cord,” Mar­gol­ies said be­fore the res­ults were in. “He came in once and she helped us but I want this to be about the stuff I’ve done since I left Con­gress — work­ing with wo­men around the world.”

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