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June 05, 2014 12:35 PM Democratic Challenges to HRC: Show Me Some Vulnerability

By Ed Kilgore

For some reason, TIME magazine is currently featuring a story on the presidential aspirations of former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer. We went through a similar buzz at the end of last year when Schweitzer delivered a couple of fiery speeches in Iowa denouncing Democrats who had supported the Iraq War and were cozy with Wall Street (hint! hint!). It doesn’t seem that his pitch has changed much since then. Nor have the hard facts that make a successful challenge to Hillary Clinton by anyone—especially an anti-gun-control-and-pro-fracking lefty “populist” from Montana—improbable.

During the last bout of Brian-o-mania I pointed out that to the extent Schweitzer was trying to mobilize progressive discontent with Barack Obama, he was barking up a very tall and limbless tree given Obama’s high approval ratings from the self-identified liberal Democrats and minority voters who would have to serve as the base for such a challenge. So now I’ll examine the kind of resistance Schweitzer would face if he trained his guns entirely on Hillary Clinton.

The last crosstabbed assessment of HRC’s popularity was conducted by Public Policy Polling back in March. Her favorability rating among self-identified Democrats stood at 83% (Obama’s is currently at 79%, according to Gallup). Among those calling themselves “very liberal,” HRC’s at 91%, and at 77% with “somewhat liberal” voters (Obama’s at 70% among “liberals” of every variety, though he’s up to 81% among “liberal Democrats.”). Among African-Americans, HRC’s favorables are at 80%, and among Hispanics, 60% (Obama is now at 87% and 51% in these demographics, respectively).

Do you see a leftward path to the Democratic presidential nominations against HRC in any of these numbers, particularly if it involves trashing Obama as well as HRC? I sure don’t. Yes, Obama was able to significantly cut into HRC’s high standing among African-Americans in 2008 for obvious reasons; if Brian Schweitzer has any documented appeal to minorities other than perhaps Native Americans, I must have missed it.

Now I’m not saying Schweitzer is being irrational in running for president, if that’s what he decides to do. He’s certainly as plausible today as Howard Dean was at this point in the 2004 cycle. HRC may decide not to run. Strange things happen in politics. But until someone can show a viable path to the nomination for him or anyone else other than Hillary Clinton—given the stubborn attachment to her of the very types of voters who would need to go massively against her to sustain a left-bent challenge—big magazine features strike me as excessive. Truth is, elite lefty opinion is very often not in accord with the actual Democratic “base” with respect to attitudes towards Obama and HRC (and earlier, for that matter, towards her husband). So show me some data before asserting HRC is vulnerable in the 2016 primaries.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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