Hillary’s Hurdles

by Nathan L. Gonzales February 22, 2006 · 11:16 PM EST

There is no question Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) is running for president in 2008. Senators don’t normally raise $33 million to run for reelection against a nominal opponent. But there are a number of large hurdles Clinton must jump before she can be elected. Too often the focus is on just one of her challenges, instead of a coalition of all of them.

While Sen. Clinton must be viewed as the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination, there is still plenty of time for other candidates from within her party to emerge as viable alternatives. Whether it’s former Gov. Mark Warner (D-VA), Sen. Evan Bayh (IN), or others, a handful of other 2008 contenders will likely make the general election electability case against Clinton.

The Clinton Name. The first, and most obvious, vulnerability for Sen. Clinton is her name. President Bush’s job approval numbers continue to sag, and voters could very well be looking for a change after eight years of a Republican White House. But if there is one candidate who can unify a fractured Republican Party, it’s probably Hillary Clinton. From her own failed health care proposal in the early 1990s to being married to one of the most polarizing political figures of the day, Clinton may have the ability to draw Republicans to the polls in November 2008 that no GOP nominee could effectively have himself.

Being a Senator. Americans haven’t elected a U.S. Senator to the presidency in almost half a century, with John F. Kennedy (D) being the last one in 1960. Like Kennedy, Clinton will have eight years of Senate experience under her belt by the time 2008 rolls around, but her task is significant. As John Kerry knows, having a voting record for opponents to exploit is a formidable task.

Geography. Clinton also has the geography factor working against her. Kennedy was the last president elected from the Northeast, and the region has lost population since 1960 (108 House seats then, compared to 83 now). Over the last 45 years, the country has chosen leaders from Texas (George W. Bush & George H.W. Bush), Arkansas (Bill Clinton), California (Ronald Reagan & Richard Nixon), and Georgia (Jimmy Carter). The Northeast’s reputation for liberal views is a problem for any presidential hopeful from the region. In some ways, Sen. Clinton’s reputation transcends geography, and she will do well in a more liberal state like California, but that reputation cuts both ways.

She’s a woman. Lest anyone forget, the United States has never elected a woman for president. Neither of the major political parties has even nominated a woman for president. And only once (Democrat Geraldine Ferraro in 1984) has a party even nominated a woman for vice-president. So, is the country ready for a woman president? That’s a topic for columns, theses, and dissertations far longer than this. But one thing is for sure: it would be a huge and historic step.

Keep in mind that polls showing that Americans are “ready” or “willing” to vote for a woman for president may not be that accurate. There are likely a group of respondents who won’t answer in the negative to those questions, because it’s not the politically correct thing to say (similar to polling involving a minority candidate). And also, Clinton, or any other woman candidate, will not be running in a vacuum. She will have an opponent with his own strengths and weaknesses. In a time of international conflict and a war on terrorism, Clinton will have to show extreme competence on foreign affairs and military issues to gain credibility with a majority of voters.

Overall, clearing just a couple of these hurdles would be a significant challenge for any candidate. But pulling off all four simultaneously in 2008, as Clinton is attempting, would have to be regarded as one of the most significant political feats in history. And that would make the loss even more difficult for Republicans to swallow.

But for the country to jump from not even nominating a woman for president to electing one, especially if we are still at war, Clinton has serious obstacles to face. Many Americans already distrust the Democratic Party on issues of national security, let alone a female Democrat.