By Dick Morris - 01/05/05 12:00 AM EST
In a poll taken last month, Americans said they felt the New York Democrat was “qualified to be president of the United States” by 59-34 percent. Clinton showed strength among all traditional Democratic voters, winning the approval of Sen. John Kerry supporters by 80-13, blacks by 80-8, all women by 64-29 and unmarried women by 69-24 and people under 30 by 73-20.
But she also did well among more traditionally Republican constituencies. Men said she was qualified by 53-40. Southerners agreed by 55-36, as did those earning more than $75,000 per year, who felt she was qualified by 58-39. While 80 percent of liberals felt she was qualified, so did 59 percent of moderates and 43 percent of self-described conservatives. Incredibly, so did 33 percent of Republicans and 37 percent of Bush voters.
Of course, many of those voters would not actually support Hillary, and the Fox News poll was careful to precede the question by saying, “Regardless of whether you would vote for Hillary Clinton or not, …” the breadth of her acceptability indicates that she has passed the national threshold for political viability.
The Fox News poll tested Hillary against several possible 2008 GOP contenders and found that she ran ahead of Florida Gov. Jeb Bush by 46-35, ahead of New York Gov. George Pataki by 41-35 and ahead of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) by 40-33.
Nor is there any basis for believing the conventional GOP wisdom that a Hillary candidacy would trigger a backlash among men, conservatives and Republicans.
When Fox News matched the former first lady against Jeb Bush in a trial heat, Hillary’s numbers were similar to those former presidential candidate Kerry racked up in a parallel test.
Among men, for example, Hillary defeated Jeb Bush by 44-39 while Kerry broke even, 42-42. While 23 percent of conservatives supported Hillary against the president’s brother, only 21 percent backed Kerry in a similar contest.
Geographically, Hillary beat Southerners Jeb Bush and Frist in the South, beating Bush in the red-state region by 42-41 and Frist by 38-37. And, in the critical Midwest, where most swing states are located, Hillary ran 11 points ahead of Jeb Bush, 10 ahead of Frist and six ahead of Pataki.
The strongest candidate against Hillary is, of course, Rudy Guiliani, whom an earlier Fox News poll showed beating her by almost 10 points. But the former New York City mayor will have a hard time winning the Republican nomination. Can a pro-abortion-rights, pro-affirmative-action, pro-gay-rights, pro-gun-control, pro-immigration moderate win Republican primaries?
Ultimately, the only Republican who may be able to beat Hillary is Bush’s nominee for secretary of state, Condeleezza Rice. Able to appeal to black and female voters without sacrificing support among whites and men, Condi could be the only figure who stands between Hillary and the White House.
And, unlike Rudy — and also unlike Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) — Condi can probably win the nomination. A social conservative who will elaborate her largely traditional views on important values issues as an inevitable part of her service as secretary of State, Rice can win primaries where Guiliani cannot and beat Hillary where neither Frist nor Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) nor Jeb Bush nor Pataki can.
Will Condi run? It is very important that she does. But it is very important to end the Republican complaisance about a Hillary candidacy. The assumption that she is radioactive among moderates and will self-destruct is comforting but completely untrue. Hillary will be the strongest Democratic candidate since her husband ran.
Like Bill, she will tack to the center and take a traditional line on controversial social issues like gay marriage. But we must always remember that while Bill is a moderate who becomes a liberal when he must, that Hillary is a liberal who pretends moderation when she has to.
Morris is the author of Rewriting History, a rebuttal of Sen. Hillary Clinton’s (D-N.Y.) memoir, Living History.