For front-runner Clinton, it's still way too early
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Let's begin with the obvious: It's the first week of May. Maybe you haven't noticed, but not one vote has been cast for president of the United States.

The nominating process does not officially begin until the Iowa caucuses, which are in February 2016. That is eight months away. I don't mean to insult your intelligence, but a great deal can happen in nine months. You already know that and have experienced this phenomena in your own lives. These cautionary words have a direct application to the candidacy of one Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump touts economic agenda in battleground Ohio The Memo: Campaigns gird for rush of early voting Trump's pitch to Maine lobstermen falls flat MORE.


Now some things I do concede. No. 1, she indisputably has by far the highest name recognition. There was a poll in swing-state Virginia which stated that her name recognition was 96 percent. I don't believe that figure. It is 99.9 percent. Yes, there might be some recluse living in Luray Caverns who doesn't get around very much, but beside that individual, everybody who is a registered voter knows the name "Hillary Clinton."

Therein lies the problem. She has been around since 1992. As first lady, as U.S. senator from New York, as aspiring presidential candidate, as globe-trotting secretary of State. As my grandmother used to often say, "familiarity breeds contempt."

The second truism: She is by far the Democratic Party front-runner. Every poll shows her 50 or 60 percentage points ahead of those who have announced (Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersOn The Money: Pessimism grows as coronavirus talks go down to the wire | Jobs report poised to light fire under COVID-19 talks | Tax preparers warn unemployment recipients could owe IRS Senators introduce bill to block Trump armed drone sale measure Sanders offers bill to tax billionaires' wealth gains during pandemic MORE, independent of Vermont) and those who are very likely to announce (former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb and former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee). The other well-known names — Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) and Vice President Biden — they, too, run far behind Clinton.

To call her a "lock" for the Democratic nomination is just wrong and downright foolish. A classic example is 1972. Ed Muskie was supposed to be a lock. The former Maine governor, senator and vice presidential nominee (1968) was just going to wrap it up in short order. Campaign staff members were picking out their offices in the West Wing. It didn't turn out that way. Then-Sen. George McGovern (D-S.D.), at this point, was at 1 percent or 2 percent and he became the eventual nominee.

The third truism: She will raise the most money. They are talking about $2 billion. Money is important, and as former California State Treasurer Jesse Unruh (D) used to proclaim, it "is the mother's milk of politics." But it isn't everything.

These early states (Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada) are small in population and, most important, even smaller in participation. In these states, organization is key. Victory is a triumph of organization: identifying your supporters and making sure they go to the polls.

I can't repeat this enough. The voters who vote in these early contests that provide essential momentum for later contests are the activists, the ideologues, the passionate outsiders. They aren't your usual, average voters. Don't mistake them for the big universe that votes in November 2016. This composition of players is not a plus for Clinton. The traditional, general election voter (the November voter) is in the wings ready and eager to vote for Clinton, but they aren't necessarily the primary or caucus type.

Another critical point: the people who are working for her, those staff closest around her. Her chief advisers are not, at first glance, the most creative and imaginative. Case in point: the chair of her campaign, John Podesta.

Podesta is a trusted aide and former White House chief of staff. More than anything, he is simply a political bureaucrat. Nothing in his history or background demonstrates risk-taking or unconventional thinking. A fluid campaign necessitates acting and leading in a bold and sometimes unorthodox way. Podesta is at heart an administrator and no more than an ordinary functionary.

Clinton up close can be warm and charming. She is much more than "likeable enough," as then-rival Barack Obama so crudely and dismissively labeled her in 2008. Her major obstacle is that she is typecast and the picture emerging is not pretty or attractive (the Clinton Foundation donors; the email secrecy). These are serious and must be faced and must be answered.

Allowing voters to see her as only a picture of the past will not work. She must define herself in a new contemporary way and with her own genuine persona. Hillary Clinton can be a winning candidate, but right now, she seems unsure of the way to go and how to present herself. Running for president must inspire and excite. At this moment, that does not appear to be happening. But as I said at the beginning, it is early and things can change.

A typographical error in this piece has been corrected.

Plotkin is a political analyst, a contributor to the BBC on American politics and a columnist for The Georgetowner.