By Ben Goddard - 06/21/07 06:25 PM EDT
The candidate keeping people interested is, surprisingly, the one who has been in the public eye the longest. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) has shown an ability to run a nuanced, balanced and well-paced campaign. There was never any doubt of her obvious advantages in this race. She has the name, the money and the organization. But many questioned whether her “inevitability” would lead to voter fatigue — if her team had been at this so long they wouldn’t be able to maneuver in this new environment of the endless campaign and 24/7 exposure.
She’s showing she can handle it. The most recent example is her campaign song video series. What initially looked like an awkward attempt at getting people involved in her campaign online has proven to be deftly executed. Hillary showed her sense of humor in the initial call for entries by promising not to sing her campaign song in public, with a clip of an out-of-tune rendition of the national anthem. Then she nicely defused criticism of her contest by sharing negative comments posted on blogs or e-mailed to her campaign. She closed the miniseries this week with a spoof of the “Sopranos” finale that was chockablock with “significant” messages. Her husband, the president, appears in a supporting role. Daughter Chelsea also makes a brief appearance (at least, the rear tire of her car does). Hillary, playing the head of the family, displays a disarming sense of humor. We are left with the message that she is strong enough and confident enough to play around a little. She’s not taking herself too seriously. She is very much in tune with what is going on in the world, if you will pardon the pun.
This is not the first time the Clintons have successfully used video parodies, by the way. In 1994 then-President Bill and first lady Hillary played a passable Harry and Louise in a spoof of the ads that were undermining the Clinton healthcare proposal at the time. The Clintons have always been media-savvy, and the former president was a master at using self-deprecating humor to soften his image. Hillary has shown she can do the same with this series of videos that will ultimately be viewed several million times on the Web.
In another example of relaxed confidence, candidate Clinton bested television’s toughest questioner since Sam Donaldson at the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Democratic Candidates forum this week. Chris Matthews of “Hardball” asked Hillary if she thought Scooter Libby should be pardoned. The obviously partisan audience objected to what it thought was a loaded question; Hillary played deftly to those sentiments. She suggested that Matthews ask “a question that’s really about the people in this audience and not what goes on inside of Washington.” The crowd loved it. The normally unflappable Matthews was suddenly on the defensive. Score one for Hillary and every voter who thinks Washington, D.C., is far too obsessed with inside-the-Beltway gamesmanship.
Meanwhile, from what I hear out West, Hillary’s most potent rival for the nomination seems to be losing some luster. Sen.
Barack Obama (D-Ill.) burst onto the scene to much enthusiasm and high expectations. While he remains a contender, his momentum has slowed, possibly stalled. The passion displayed to a national audience in his speech to the Democratic Convention has been noticeably missing recently. He has the words right but they come out flat, dispassionate, almost Al Gore-like. The ham-handed attack on Clinton’s ties to India made the non-politician sound very much like the old-school crowd he’s been trying to position himself against. Voters tell me he’s not what they’d hoped for as an alternative. Maybe that is why Hillary has opened a double-digit lead over Obama in some recent polls.
This is a long race to the nomination, and there is plenty of room for any candidate to stumble, plenty of time for voters to tire of the early front-runners. (Four years ago at about this time Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) led Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) by 18 points.) But the one candidate who seems to keep freshening her image, giving us different looks and showing some staying power is our old friend Hillary.
Goddard is a founding partner of political consultants Goddard Claussen Strategic Advocacy. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.