CAN HILLARY WIN?….In the current issue of the Monthly, Amy Sullivan and Carl Cannon debate whether or not Hillary Clinton can win if she runs for president in 2008. Carl says yes and Amy says no.

As it turns out, they actually agree on a lot. For example, they agree that it’s way too early to be talking seriously about this stuff ? but what the heck. It’s summer. They agree that Hillary’s poll numbers are pretty decent. They agree that she can win the Democratic nomination but it’s the general election that will give her trouble. They agree that the big unknown is whether she can appeal to married white women. And they agree that there’s a big chunk of the electorate that won’t vote for her no matter what.

I mostly agree with all that too, although I think there’s one big thing missing from this analysis. More on that later. For now, though, I want to respond to Amy’s suggestion that Hillary’s big problem is that she has a limited number of options for changing the media-fueled perception of her as a ball-busting radical leftist:

Of course, there is one proven way that Hillary Clinton has changed voters’ perceptions. In her first Senate race, the strategy was simple: Meet as many voters as possible, and ignore the scandal-focused press.

….The strategy…succeeded because many voters ? weaned on a diet of conservative talking points during the 1990s ? expected Clinton to be a liberal of the bluest sort, to the left of Ted Kennedy and unable to understand their concerns. What they found was that her positions on welfare, crime, and foreign policy, among other issues, were far more centrist than liberal. In addition, while most professional political observers dismissed her ?Listening Tour? as a stunt, Clinton actually used it to query New Yorkers about their problems and obsessively study up on local issues.

The problem, Amy says, is that in a national election there’s just no way to meet lots of voters face to face. You have no choice but to rely on media coverage and paid campaign commercials.

But here’s the thing: I’m not so sure that’s a bad thing. I don’t have any particular axe to grind when it comes to Hillary. There are things I like about her and things I don’t. But one thing that’s struck me during the past few years is that she’s gotten way better at dealing with the press. When I see her giving interviews or responding to questions from reporters, she comes across as moderate, genuine, funny, and knowledgable. I think her media persona these days is actually pretty good.

What this means is that the public perception of her could be changed quite a bit during a presidential campaign in which TV watchers get their first look at her in nearly a decade. What they’ll see is very much the same woman that those New Yorkers saw in person, and it may come as a surprise to them.

Is an improved media persona enough for her to win? I’m not sure. But if it really is the biggest thing standing in her way, she might very well be the next president of the United States.

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