The Gipper-Hillary connection
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-New York, with her husband, former President Bill Clinton.
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WASHINGTON (Creators Syndicate) -- If the polls are accurate, then for only the second time in 30 years are the most loyal partisans in the Out-of-Power political party and their most partisan opponents in the In-Power party backing the same candidate to be the next presidential nominee of the Out-of-Power party.
Three decades ago, the first choice of then-out-of-office Republicans was the conservative champion from California, Ronald Reagan. Democrats of that era were nervous about Jimmy Carter, their embattled incumbent, facing Tennessee Sen. Howard Baker or even former U.N. Ambassador George H.W. Bush.
But Democrats were positive that American voters would reject a far-right, 69-year-old, ex-movie actor with, what former President Ford had called, "prematurely orange hair." Reagan carried 44 states in 1980.
Today, it is Republicans who are publicly salivating over the prospect of running against the Democrats' front-runner, New York Sen. Hillary Clinton.
Some see her candidacy motivating conservatives to vote in record numbers, guaranteeing GOP retention of the White House and Congress. Others see themselves becoming wealthy tapping the nervous checkbooks of donors who view the Clintons as proof of the impending Apocalypse. Very few even see the remote possibility of a Hillary Clinton presidency.
Like 1978 Democrats, 2005 Republicans may be making the serious mistake of talking only to people who agree with them. That is the warning sounded by some wise, battle-scarred Republican veterans of GOP presidential politics, who take a Hillary Clinton candidacy very seriously indeed.
Rick Davis, who managed the insurgent presidential campaign of Arizona Sen. John McCain -- who came from single digits in the polls to nearly upsetting the Party Establishment's favorite son in 2000 -- respectfully calls the New York senator "a triple threat. She, like Reagan in 1980, has her own base of support locked up, which means she can take different or more moderate positions on a controversial issue, like abortion, and not risk her support."
In 1978, at the height of the anti-gay political movement -- when restrictive measures won in Wichita, Kansas, and Eugene, Oregon, and after Anita Bryant's crusade in Florida -- a California initiative to remove homosexual teachers from the classroom looked like it might pass, until that support-your-local-police conservative, Ronald Reagan, came out in opposition.
Clinton's other two advantages, according to Davis: "She has the capacity to raise almost unlimited amounts of money and -- let's face it -- she's smarter than the rest of the people running."
The last point is emphasized by Scott Reed, the onetime executive director of the Republican National Committee and 1996 presidential campaign manager for Sen. Bob Dole, who marvels at her deftness politically in the Senate, where "such established Clinton-haters as Jeff Sessions of Alabama, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Judd Gregg of New Hampshire have prominently co-authored legislation with Mrs. Clinton."
Reed says: "Clinton has quickly and methodically become a force to be reckoned with in the Senate. Like Lyndon Johnson before her, she is mastering the Senate to fit her agenda."
Critics of Clinton, who generally acknowledge her quick mastery of subject matter, still question what difference she has made, what issue she has made her own in her first six years.
Her party has already turned, and the country is not far behind, in increasing opposition to the U.S. war in Iraq. Clinton voted to go to war, and her leadership on the issue has not been notable.
The dilemma of the woman-as-commander-in-chief is evident: The Democratic woman who voted to go to war can be seen as "tough," but not as "right." While the Democratic woman who voted against war could be judged to have been "right," but not "tough."
Ronald Reagan's presidential campaign manager in 1976 and early 1980, John P. Sears, sees Clinton as both "strong" and "determined." But she will not enjoy one major advantage the Gipper had: "Reagan benefited greatly from the perception that he was not smart."
He does see one potential GOP candidate profiting from Clinton as the front-runner: "If she looks like she is going to be the nominee, then the highly electable John McCain could become dramatically more appealing to Republican voters."
The message from these three GOP veterans is clear: Be careful what you wish for. You may get it!
To find out more about Mark Shields, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at www.creators.com.
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