Dreamscapes For a Lefty Challenge to HRC

Today’s soft porn for political junkies is a Maggie Haberman item for the New York Times wherein she’s talked three anonymous “Democratic strategists” into setting out a path to victory–or at least a prayer of victory–for a “liberal” primary challenge to Hillary Clinton.

How do we know these are real “strategists” (after all, Fox News brands pretty young faces as “strategists” by the dozen as an excuse to get them on the air) and not random schmoes used to validate the CW or the opinions of the “reporter”? I’d say it’s because they say at least one thing the CW almost invariably misses: any left-bent challenge absolutely has to begin with denting HRC’s support among African-Americans. This has indeed been the Waterloo for many a lefty presidential campaign, and conversely, the saving grace for many a “centrist.” And it is interesting to note there is presently a set of issues out there–involving police behavior and the criminal justice system–that could give an insurgent some traction among black voters if the front-runner fails to preempt it.

The other bit of very good if more obvious advice the “strategists” give to a hypothetical challenger is to go big in Iowa. He or she will get an initially rapturous welcome there thanks to the joy and relief Iowans will feel about a contested Caucus that keeps the life-giving money and attention flowing into the state. The Caucus process rewards labor-intensive organization and “enthusiasm” more than a pure primary–in other words, it’s less “democratic” and thus more fertile ground for an upset. And if HRC could not bring herself to skip Iowa in 2008, when it was an obvious trap for her, on grounds that she’d lose her front-running status, she sure as hell cannot skip it or tamp down expectations this time around.

Perhaps the most interesting issue discussed with Haberman by the “strategists” is whether conditions are ripe for a Howard-Dean-in-2004 style revolt against HRC’s alleged hawkiness. I honestly don’t recall her sounding all that hawky in 2008, aside from the interminable debate over her rationalizations for voting for the Iraq War Resolution, and then the famous “3:00 AM ad,” which was more about her qualifications as compared to Obama than about her views. But it is probable that a serious primary challenge would at a minimum restrain her from flirting with those who want a harder line than Obama’s over Iran or Palestine or defense spending. That would please the “keep Hillary honest” lobby, but might not provide much oxygen for an actual challenge.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.