5 Democrats Who Should Run Against Hillary Clinton

The former secretary of State could be vulnerable in a Democratic primary, but only if qualified candidates decide to challenge her.

Attorney general? Deval Patrick   Charlotte, NC - Deval Patrick on the floor of the Democratic National Convention.
©2012 Liz Lynch
Josh Kraushaar
Add to Briefcase
Josh Kraushaar
July 2, 2014, 3:59 p.m.

It’s been re­mark­able to see how quickly the Demo­crat­ic Party has co­alesced around Hil­lary Clin­ton as its ex­pec­ted 2016 nom­in­ee, des­pite clear vul­ner­ab­il­it­ies she’s tele­graphed dur­ing her book tour. Clin­ton brings un­deni­able as­sets to the table — she’d be the first fe­male pres­id­ent, the Clin­ton brand is still strong, her fun­drais­ing is un­matched — but her re­cent ex­pos­ure on the book tour has demon­strated her polit­ic­al lim­it­a­tions as well.

I’ve out­lined some of them in past columns: She’s not a par­tic­u­larly good cam­paign­er; she’s skilled at stay­ing on mes­sage but tone-deaf to the way com­ments about her wealth could back­fire among an eco­nom­ic­ally anxious pub­lic. With the threat of ter­ror­ism rising and in­creased tur­bu­lence in Ukraine, Syr­ia, and Ir­aq, Clin­ton could find that her re­cord as sec­ret­ary of State is a ma­jor vul­ner­ab­il­ity in an elec­tion where for­eign policy is loom­ing as a ma­jor is­sue. Most im­port­ant, she tied her­self to Pres­id­ent Obama by ac­cept­ing his of­fer to run State, as­sum­ing that his coat­tails would be aw­fully valu­able down the road. Now, with Obama’s ap­prov­al rat­ings tank­ing, scan­dals abound­ing, and a new Quin­nipi­ac poll show­ing a plur­al­ity of voters con­sider him the “worst pres­id­ent” since World War II, Clin­ton knows she needs to keep some dis­tance from Obama while main­tain­ing the ex­cite­ment of his base. That’s not a great place to be.

Her biggest as­set is the fact that the en­tire Demo­crat­ic Party in­fra­struc­ture is be­hind her, seem­ingly resigned to her vul­ner­ab­il­it­ies but hope­ful about her po­ten­tial. Even pro­gress­ives who are nervous about her Wall Street con­nec­tions are merely hop­ing to nudge her left­ward, and not ag­gress­ively chal­lenge her with an ac­tu­al can­did­ate. With a lackluster Demo­crat­ic bench, it’s hard to find many al­tern­at­ives even will­ing to throw their names out there. And let’s be clear: Former Montana Gov. Bri­an Sch­weitzer, whose loose lips would sink a cam­paign be­fore it launched, and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Ver­mont, throw­ing in his name as a protest can­did­ate, don’t qual­i­fy.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t cred­ible can­did­ates who, on pa­per, could mount a ser­i­ous chal­lenge. With anti-Wash­ing­ton sen­ti­ment run­ning high, this is a prom­ising op­por­tun­ity for an out­sider to run and sur­prise. True, they don’t seem to want to run, wheth­er from fear of the Clin­ton ma­chine, a de­sire to avoid chal­len­ging someone who might make his­tory, or simply an as­sump­tion that 2016 isn’t a great year for Demo­crats.

But the can­did­ates ex­ist. Here are some pro­spects who would nor­mally be touted for high­er of­fice but have ac­qui­esced to Hil­lary Clin­ton in the run-up to the 2016 elec­tion.

1. Sen. Tim Kaine of Vir­gin­ia

Kaine was one of the first Demo­crat­ic of­fi­cials to jump on the Obama band­wag­on, and he has a re­sume that nor­mally would be the envy of his fel­low pols: swing-state gov­ernor; Demo­crat­ic Na­tion­al Com­mit­tee chair­man; sen­at­or elec­ted on Obama’s coat­tails against a former GOP pres­id­en­tial pro­spect, George Al­len. Kaine was on the very short list of po­ten­tial Obama run­ning mates. If this were the re­sume of a Re­pub­lic­an can­did­ate, it would vault him to the top of the list of 2016 front-run­ners.

But in­stead, Kaine took the un­usu­al step in May of en­dors­ing Clin­ton be­fore she even an­nounced her can­did­acy, per­haps angling for a Cab­in­et post over pur­su­ing any pos­sible na­tion­al am­bi­tions. Maybe be­ing a white man in the Demo­crat­ic Party is now a vul­ner­ab­il­ity in the Obama era, but Kaine cer­tainly could score chits as an early Obama sup­port­er who helped swing his state the pres­id­ent’s way. And his Mid­west­ern roots, au­then­t­ic per­son­al­ity (in sharp con­trast to Clin­ton), and ex­ec­ut­ive ex­per­i­ence would all be strong selling points to a na­tion­al audi­ence.

2. Mas­sachu­setts Gov. Dev­al Patrick

One of the ob­vi­ous, yet un­der­ap­pre­ci­ated, factors in Obama’s up­set of Clin­ton was how power­ful a role race played in the 2008 pres­id­en­tial primar­ies. Clin­ton had close ties to the Afric­an-Amer­ic­an com­munity from her days in the White House, but once it be­came clear that Obama was a ser­i­ous chal­lenger, he over­whelm­ingly car­ried the black vote in nearly every primary state where it mattered.

Why couldn’t that dy­nam­ic re­peat it­self in 2016? Mas­sachu­setts Gov. Dev­al Patrick is leav­ing of­fice, and he is a close ally of Obama’s. (Obama even touted him as a pro­spect­ive can­did­ate.) Un­like the 2008 ver­sion of Obama, Patrick boasts ex­ec­ut­ive ex­per­i­ence as a two-term gov­ernor who had to deal with one of the biggest crises dur­ing the Obama pres­id­ency — the Bo­ston Mara­thon bomb­ings. Un­like Mitt Rom­ney be­fore launch­ing his first pres­id­en­tial cam­paign, Patrick scored sol­id ap­prov­al rat­ings in his last year in of­fice (53 per­cent in a Janu­ary 2014 MassINC poll).

Patrick re­cently said he wor­ries about how Clin­ton is be­ing viewed as the in­ev­it­able nom­in­ee, but he hasn’t made any moves of his own to sug­gest he’s run­ning. But if he could put a cred­ible team to­geth­er, he’d be a much more threat­en­ing chal­lenger than, say, Mary­land Gov. Mar­tin O’Mal­ley.

3. Sen. Claire Mc­Caskill of Mis­souri

In a nor­mal year, a fe­male me­dia-savvy, red-state pro­sec­utor who de­fied the odds to win a second term in the Sen­ate would be at the top of many Demo­crat­ic wish lists. But like Kaine, this early Obama sup­port­er was one of the first elec­ted of­fi­cials to sign up with Clin­ton’s nas­cent cam­paign, tak­ing her­self out of the con­ver­sa­tion. Part of her motive was to in­gra­ti­ate her­self with Team Clin­ton, who placed Mc­Caaskill on Hil­lary’s “en­emies list” after she said she didn’t want her daugh­ter near the former pres­id­ent in a Meet the Press in­ter­view (as an Obama sur­rog­ate).

In­stead of suck­ing up to the Clin­tons, why not chal­lenge Hil­lary? Rep­res­ent­ing a pop­u­list state, Mc­Caskill would be well po­si­tioned to chal­lenge Clin­ton on her wealth, ties to cor­por­a­tions, and per­ceived dis­con­nect from the middle class. Plus, Mc­Caskill’s long-term pro­spects in the Sen­ate aren’t great, as­sum­ing she doesn’t face Todd Akin again in 2018.

4. Former Sen. Rus­sell Fein­gold of Wis­con­sin

Where have you gone, Russ Fein­gold? The former Wis­con­sin sen­at­or and cam­paign fin­ance re­form scold has vir­tu­ally dis­ap­peared from the polit­ic­al arena. Like Clin­ton, he’s now serving in the State De­part­ment — as the spe­cial en­voy for the Afric­an Great Lakes re­gion and the Demo­crat­ic Re­pub­lic of the Congo.

Like Eliza­beth War­ren, Fein­gold would be able to rally pro­gress­ives around his cam­paign but he could po­ten­tially have more ap­peal to male voters, a demo­graph­ic where the party has got­ten crushed in the Obama era. Un­like Clin­ton (and War­ren), Fein­gold took a lone stand for same-sex mar­riage in 2006, when most elec­ted Demo­crats op­posed such le­gis­la­tion. He’s been a long­time crit­ic of out­side groups’ cam­paign spend­ing, which has been a ral­ly­ing cry for lib­er­al Demo­crats in the age of the su­per PAC.

Fein­gold has al­ways marched to the beat of his own drum, and it would be hard to see him pre­vail­ing over the bet­ter-or­gan­ized Clin­ton. But he could per­suas­ively as­sert he was ahead of the curve on the is­sues an­im­at­ing today’s Demo­crat­ic Party, a power­ful ar­gu­ment for the grass­roots base. In­deed, he’d be in a situ­ation sim­il­ar to that of an­oth­er re­form-minded former Demo­crat­ic sen­at­or, Bill Brad­ley, who chal­lenged a sit­ting vice pres­id­ent and nearly won the New Hamp­shire primary.

5. Mis­souri Gov. Jay Nix­on

Win­ning two terms in an in­creas­ingly Re­pub­lic­an red state — he ran 9 points ahead of Obama in 2008 and 11 points ahead in 2012 — Nix­on is one of the most ac­com­plished Demo­crat­ic gov­ernors in the coun­try. The Kan­sas City Star‘s Steve Kraske dubbed Nix­on the “Teddy Roosevelt of Mis­souri — vig­or­ous, a cham­pi­on of the out­doors, con­stantly tour­ing all corners of the state more than any chief ex­ec­ut­ive in state his­tory.” He worked with Re­pub­lic­ans to pass com­pre­hens­ive jobs le­gis­la­tion, cut spend­ing, and passed ahead-of-the-curve le­gis­la­tion in­centiv­iz­ing col­lege gradu­ates to spe­cial­ize in high-de­mand health care fields. Nix­on won high praise for his hand­ling of the af­ter­math of the tor­nadoes that dev­ast­ated Joplin. And he’s won over some so­cial con­ser­vat­ives by al­low­ing re­stric­tions on late-term abor­tions and re­du­cing the age for res­id­ents to pur­chase a con­cealed-weapons per­mit. But he’s also ex­pan­ded Medi­caid and fo­cused on boost­ing spend­ing for edu­ca­tion.

In short, his po­s­i­tions on so­cial is­sues would prob­ably be un­ten­able in today’s Demo­crat­ic Party, where mod­er­ates are be­com­ing as ex­tinct as their coun­ter­parts in the Re­pub­lic­an Party. And Nix­on has shown no in­terest in na­tion­al of­fice, know­ing the near-in­sur­mount­able chal­lenges he’d face in a primary.

In 1992, when Demo­crats nom­in­ated a cent­rist South­ern gov­ernor as their pres­id­en­tial nom­in­ee, it was a move born out of weak­ness, with party lead­ers des­per­ately seek­ing to mod­er­ate their im­age and ini­tially hold­ing little hope they could oust the sit­ting pres­id­ent. At the on­set of the primary, the field was wide open, with the party’s biggest-name con­tenders (Mario Cuomo, Al Gore) opt­ing not to run. The situ­ation could well be re­versed in 2016: Demo­crats act­ing like they’re in a stronger po­s­i­tion than the real­ity, opt­ing for a coron­a­tion in­stead of a con­tested primary, and ig­nor­ing the polit­ic­al lo­gic of nom­in­at­ing an elect­able mod­er­ate out­sider who can ex­pand the party’s co­ali­tion. In 1992’s more ideo­lo­gic­ally di­verse Demo­crat­ic Party, Nix­on would be at the top of many Demo­crat­ic wish lists. But we’re still stuck in Clin­ton­world.

What We're Following See More »
DEA Head Rosenberg Resigning
30 minutes ago

"Chuck Rosenberg, the acting head of the Drug Enforcement Agency who has found himself and his agency at odds with the Trump administration in recent months, told staff members Tuesday that he is planning to step down from his post." The Obama administration holdover will step down on October 1.

Sen. Corker to Retire
1 hours ago

Another Republican member of Congress is showing himself out the door. After much thought, consideration and family discussion over the past year, Elizabeth and I have decided that I will leave the United States Senate when my term expires at the end of 2018,” said Sen. Bob Corker in a statement. The Tennessean has served since 2006.

At Least 6 WH Advisors Used Private Email Accounts
1 hours ago

Jared Kushner, Stephen Bannon, Reince Priebus, Gary Cohn, Stephen Miller, and Ivanka Trump sent or received some emails on personal accounts that related to White House business. "Officials are supposed to use government emails for their official duties so their conversations are available to the public and those conducting oversight. But it is not illegal for White House officials to use private email accounts as long as they forward work-related messages to their work accounts so they can be preserved."

Stone Releases Correspondence with Guccifer 2.0
2 hours ago

"Roger Stone, a longtime friend and adviser to Donald Trump, released correspondence Tuesday" with the online hacker known as Guccifer 2.0 , which "U.S. intelligence agencies said was used by Russian government-linked entities to distribute embarrassing information about Democrats during the 2016 election. The disclosures came in a 47-page opening statement made available to reporters in advance of Mr. Stone’s Tuesday appearance in front of the House Intelligence Committee." Stone called his contacts with Guccifer "limited" and "benign."

Mueller Could Start Interviewing White House Figures This Week
2 hours ago

"Special counsel investigators could start interviewing current and former White House staff as soon as later this week regarding the Russian probe, two sources familiar with the matter tell CNN. One source cautioned it is still being worked out with Robert Mueller's office and said it might be delayed until next week." Among those who could have a sit-down with the special prosecutor: former chief of staff Reince Priebus, former press secretary Sean Spicer, communications director Hope Hicks, White House counsel Don McGahn, communications adviser Josh Raffel and associate counsel James Burnham.


Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.