It's been hard sitting out electoral politics. I miss preparing candidates for debates and sparring with undecided voters over who's most qualified and electable. On the other hand, ever since former Vice President Al Gore cured my lifelong habit of jumping on a presidential bandwagon, I must say that I greatly enjoy the freedom of calling it like I see it. It's still too early to make predictions, but it still looks promising that the Democratic presidential nominee will take the White House in 2008. What the public wants, though dares not expect, is a candidate who will be honest, compelling, wise and strong.
Who best fits the bill? Democratic voters who will be heading to the polls in a few months are now navigating uncharted waters. Unless Illinois Sen. Barack Obama convinces them he has enough experience to lead the country or unless former senator John Edwards breaks through in the polls, New York Sen. Hillary Clinton is looking like a shoo-in for the nomination. But don't quote me. While Clinton has proven herself in nearly every debate and forum, raised sufficient cash to run a credible campaign and assembled an A-list of supporters that would fill a Manhattan telephone book, some of her rivals and many in the media are still wondering whether she is electable. It's an odd phenomenon to question the electability of a front-running candidate with a double-digit lead over her closest competitor. But, the media has a propensity to make its own news. Sometimes they can cite fiction frequently enough that it becomes an accepted truth through sheer force of repetition.
Say something loud enough and long enough, and people start to believe it. From the moment Clinton tossed her long-ago discarded headband into the ring, the question has been: Can she win? As this contest continues and the public adjusts to the idea of a female president, we see more of Clinton's character and less of her caricature. Hence, her polling numbers continue to rise. That doesn't happen with unelectable candidates. An ABC/Washington Post poll conducted earlier this month asked Democrats whether they were satisfied with their field of candidates. A resounding 78 percent of voters said they were. When the field is narrowed to just the two front-runners, and people are asked whom they would prefer to secure the nomination, 63 percent chose Clinton over 32 percent for Obama, according to a USA Today/Gallup poll also conducted earlier this month. Clinton is electable, and regardless of how many times she has to answer questions about her vote on the war in Iraq, she still comes across as measured, honest, trustworthy and tough enough to stand up to any dictator. Democratic voters are now betting on Clinton, not under duress or for lack of better options, but because she is the most appealing on a slate of attractive options. Let's put the "Is Hillary electable?" question to bed. Polls, money and endorsements have already answered the question. Let's move on to the real question: Is the race for the Democratic nomination over? Back in Iowa, the first state to hold a legitimate primary or caucus with a full slate of delegates at stake, it is still a three-person race, with Gov. Bill Richardson also in the hunt. The three top-tier candidates are within five or six points of one another. To win those caucuses and the delegates that come with it, you need more than personality and charm. You need a superior organization and leaders in all 99 counties who can connect with the caucus goers. While the Clinton machine is very good at the inevitable spin game, can they influence the good folks of Waterloo and Council Bluffs? And if Clinton doesn't persuade those voters, will it stall her campaign at a time when it needs to sail away? This is why we hold elections and not coronations in the United States. At this point in the contest, it is unrealistic to think that Obama or Edwards could browbeat Clinton out of her front-runner status by just showing up at debates. Anyone who thinks that has zero understanding of presidential campaigns, which, at their core, are about building a compelling narrative, laying the foundation in the early states or contests and preparing for the final grueling weeks of the season. This season, while it appears long, has just started. We won't know the winner until the nomination has been won. I am not ready to write off the so-called underdogs. And there are plenty of them still sniffing around for money and voters to back them. Democrats love to root for an underdog, particularly if they believe the person is one of their own: someone who will stand up for Democratic principles and values of fairness, security, opportunity and shared prosperity for all. And you can quote me on that.
Donna Brazile is a political commentator on CNN, ABC and NPR, contributing columnist to Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill, and former campaign manager for Al Gore. Copyright 2007, Newspaper Enterprise Assn.