Hillary in 2008?

James A. Barnes and Peter Bell, reporters for National Journal, regularly poll more than a hundred political insiders—selected for their campaign experience, political knowledge, and ties to key voting blocs. Recently, for The Atlantic, they asked about the presidential prospects of Hillary Clinton. A list of poll participants can be found at the bottom of this article

If she runs, will Hillary Clinton win the Democratic presidential nomination?

  Democratic
Insiders
Republican
Insiders
Yes 49 48
No 14 8
Don't know/too early to tell (volunteered) 2 2

What would be the most difficult obstacle for her to overcome as a candidate in the general election? (Pick just one.)

  Democratic
Insiders
Republican
Insiders
a) Clinton fatigue 11 7
b) Perceptions that she is too liberal 11 23
c) Her gender 9 4
d) Lack of foreign policy experience 0 0
e) Her persona 28 16

Volunteered Democratic responses: A & B (2 votes); "all of the above"; "the right wing smear"; "she has many pluses and minuses"; "her political tin ear."

Volunteered GOP responses: A & B (2 votes); B & E (2 votes); B & C; A & E; "all but C"; "her lack of executive experience."

Here are all the verbatim responses from the May 2-5 survey of National Journal's Political insiders for The Atlantic.

Democratic insiders who say that if she gets into the race, Hillary Clinton will win the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination:

"If Hillary runs Hillary wins—simple as that. She's doing all the right things, going to all the right states, building up political chits, and steering for the middle. She has to convince the 'nervous Nellies' in the party though that she's not a totally polarizing figure and that she can win the general [election]."

"She has been tested more times than Jose Canseco. I would never underestimate her. She has been to hell and back on so many things that no road she will likely ever travel will seem so hot. Still, I don't think she can win a general election. But she should run because she will make every other candidate better. If one of them beats her, he or she will be a much stronger general election candidate. If no one can beat her [in the primaries], then no one else should be the nominee."

"She is beloved in the party from the grass roots to K Street. It would take a cataclysmic failure on her part to lose the nomination."

"No one in the Democratic field can beat her—she can only lose it."

"Yes, she'll get the nomination, and she stands an excellent chance of becoming President—neither because of nor in spite of her gender, name, or background. She'll wage a smart, tough campaign. She'll face what every other Democrat would face—a divided country in need of a leader, not just someone who expects others to follow."

"Yes, and the more crowded the primary race, the better for her."

"It is a long way to the New Hampshire Primary, but as of today, there is no obstacle in her way."

"Senator Clinton will be the first woman to be a competitive Democratic contender and she will take off like a rocket. No one can stop her unless the Democratic primary process is changed to reduce the impact of front-loading."

"Yes, but not necessarily a foregone conclusion. We don't know what the issues will be by then. No one in early 2001 predicted 9/11 and how it dramatically changed the political landscape."

"Hillary would have to screw up in a big way to blow her current advantage over the rest of the field, which is unlikely."

"If Hillary runs, yes, she will be the nominee. Why? Liberal women will have to hold their noses on some of her moderate positions (for example, Iraq), because she is truly the first female presidential frontrunner in history. Enough moderates will find her palatable to make it difficult for some of the true New Democrats (Bayh, Warner, and Richardson) to differentiate themselves from her without appearing far too conservative for most Democratic activists. She'll raise more money than anybody (Kerry will do OK, and Warner has a lot of personal wealth, but neither can match Hillary). She has more name recognition than anybody who hasn't lost an election recently (Kerry, Edwards), and maybe more than those that have. She's charismatic, and has some pretty solid political advice a phone call away. In fact, if she runs, what is the compelling case others will make that she can be defeated for the nomination?"

"Strong favorite if she runs—nearly perfect pitch in the Senate thus far."

Democratic insiders who say that if she gets into the race Hillary Clinton will not win the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination:

"She has the money, but even among Democrats she is too much of a polarizing figure. Those of us in D.C. need to spend more time with Democrats in Iowa to understand."

"No—she will be the frontrunner until she gets in front of voters. After her fellow candidates spend months attacking her, one will become the 'Hillary Slayer'—but the 'slayer' may not necessarily become the nominee."

"[If she wins,] she will make us a minority party for the next generation."

"Not at this time—but depends who the Republicans put up. She is a liberal from New York and a woman. The country isn't ready to elect a woman for President who doesn't have (or isn't perceived to have) executive abilities. A woman governor could get elected now. It is really too early to tell."

"There is no way she wins."

"As the father of girls, I hope that if she wins the Democratic primary, she will be able to use her incredible political strengths to become the first woman president."

Democratic insiders who are unsure (volunteered) whether Hillary Clinton will win the 2008 Democratic presidential nominating contest:

"Yet to be seen."

"I don't know. It's too early to tell. There are too many unknown factors such as the other candidates in the field."

Republican insiders who say that if she gets into the race, Hillary Clinton will win the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination:

"How can Hillary walk away from history? She is a shoo-in for the nomination and at least fifty-fifty for the general election. Name me someone else who would not run under those circumstances."

"She's going to start with the same type of financial and institutional advantage that Bush had in 2000. That means she can survive a few slip-ups that would finish off her opponents. And the Democrats don't have a McCain."

"In a walk. Nobody else is close by any measurement."

"Yes, if Hillary Clinton runs I definitely believe that she will win the nomination. No one will be able to compete with her financially."

"Hillary Clinton is diving to the center so fast and hard that poor moderates like Evan Bayh and Mark Warner are getting drenched."

"Yes, but it will not be easy. Democrats don't have a strong viable alternative."

"Bet the farm on the non-New Yorker who [captured] that state's U.S. Senate seat."

"She is a man among boys."

"Hillary wins the nomination if she runs—easily."

"Hillary is the dominant national political figure—the only one who can dominate any issue she engages."

"If Hillary wants it—and she sure looks like she does—she's the odds-on favorite to run away with the nomination. If you're Kerry or Edwards, you can't make a dent and you have nowhere to go but down; you're irrelevant. A new voice will emerge to challenge her from the center, someone in the mold of Virginia's Warner."

"Hilary's power as a presidential candidate is overwhelming. Her star appeal among Democrats, combined with her ability to raise money will dwarf any other potential candidate."

"Yes, she should run. (After all, she is their strongest candidate.)"

"Hillary Clinton epitomizes the current Democrat party. But the jury is out on whether she can win the November election."

"Hillary will win the nomination: those who control the nomination process will think happy days are here again for the Democrats."

"No one on the Democratic side has the star power, the money, or the message that Hillary has. She has shown an exemplary ability to moderate her political positions. The nomination battle will be tough when the campaign swings to the South and West, but early wins in Iowa and New Hampshire will make Hillary hard to beat."

Republicans who think that if she gets into the race Hillary Clinton won't win the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination:

"I find it inconceivable that Democrats will land on a candidate as liberal and polarizing as Hillary. She will start as the frontrunner, but the real winner will come from those candidates who consistently finish second or third in the early contests. When reality sets in, one of those close seconds will emerge."

"Just as the current polling inflates many GOP hopefuls (Rudy and McCain), she is not as real as the numbers appear to suggest."

Republican insiders who are unsure (volunteered) whether Hillary Clinton will win the 2008 Democratic presidential nominating contest:

"Too soon to know."

"I am unsure whether she will win the nomination or not. Clearly, she has the celebrity appeal, but she lacks executive experience. Yes, she has been in the White House, but she was not the decision-maker."

On Hillary's hurdles ...
Republicans who say she is too liberal:

"She has done a fairly good job of positioning herself as more of a centrist in terms of the media and political elites, but every other American knows she is the left's great hope.

Being too liberal will do her in. She can't remake herself in two years; it's difficult for her to hide her true liberal beliefs. As good as she is, Clinton will slip up somewhere and remind everyone out there who she really is."

"She is too liberal [to get] any of Bush's red states to switch over."

"Perception that she's too liberal. She's answered this question during these past 100 days by tacking so conspicuously to the center."

"Too liberal— that is why she is beginning to hug the center on some issues."

"She is too liberal—no 'perception' about it."

"She is the queen of the Blue States but will be unable to reach beyond them."

"This is easy. What makes American and Democratic Party politics so interesting is that Democrats will not believe she is too liberal."

"Hillary's biggest liability is the perception that she's a liberal. She understands this, though, and has been moving toward the center for some time. Expect this tendency to accelerate and become more obvious and public. She will find her own Sister Souljah issues. And Bill's consistent counsel will be to do this. A secondary liability for Hillary will be Bill Clinton's own visibility. I assume he'll be smart enough to stay in the background, but if he does not, that would become a big problem for Hillary."

"Hillary's persona goes down differently with different people. But her political judgment is shaky, and that, in the end, could do her in. She's no desperate housewife, but her problem is that she doesn't truly understand housewives, desperate or not."

"It's a pretty close call [versus] Clinton fatigue and lack of policy experience, but the legacy of Hillary care trumps them all."

"Perceptions that she is too liberal (which are based on reality)."

"In view of her recent speech on abortion, she clearly agrees 'B' is the bigger problem. With regard to Clinton fatigue, she'll position herself as a victim and wrap up the women's vote."

"Perceptions she is too liberal—[as evinced by her positions on] large government, health care, partial-birth abortions, trial lawyers, and the right-wing conspiracy."

Republican insiders who say it's her gender:

"Her gender: I know that's not 21st-century, but most of the country isn't there yet either."

"While it's difficult to pick just one, Hillary's gender will more than likely be the biggest obstacle to her becoming President. The bottom line—with such uncertainty in foreign and world affairs, the United States will not elect a woman to be the leader of the free world."

"Her gender. This country still has a large number of voters, men and women, who will find it hard to accept a woman in office of President. In any event, this 'obstacle' is the only one she has no control in altering.

"Her gender, and interestingly the obstacle of gender won't come from men, but from women."

Republican insiders who say it's her persona:

"Hillary's liberalism can be addressed and corrected—that's a work already in progress. But her brusque manner irritates millions; it's more difficult to hide personality in a long campaign."

"She's still too sanctimonious, particularly when someone gets under her skin. While her gender isn't a big liability, it gives her less room for error if she comes across as a bitch. She'll have moved to the middle enough to satisfy most swing voters, and she's sharpening her foreign policy credentials. But if one of the debates gets tough, she'll turn into Bob Dole in drag."

"Her persona—the very reasons that will make her the early front runner will be her ultimate undoing."

"Her persona will prevent her from becoming the next President. She is too strident and shrill and the great 'middle' that decides elections will not be comfortable with her."

"She, like her husband, is more Nixon than she is Reagan or Bush: Incredibly smart and disciplined, but paranoid and too devious for her own good."

"Her persona, which includes several of the attributes that you have listed, but also in part relates to her cold, distant, and aloof presence. However, having said that I would quickly interject that I am not saying that she cannot win, because given the right circumstances clearly she could. In fact, I believe that Republicans underestimate her at their own peril—just as they did her husband 13 years ago."

"The ticket is Clinton and either Warner or Bayh. There are too many rumors about Richardson's private life, and Clinton doesn't need to defend another man with rumored fidelity problems. And she can win."

"Hillary's persona is her baggage—not her husband, not her ideology. This is the intangible. For the same reason many people like her, others vehemently dislike her. She is polarizing. She doesn't even have to say anything and she polarizes people."

"Her persona. Hillary Clinton's persona encompasses all the other issues [listed in the poll]. I don't know how she can reinvent herself to be somebody different."

"If Hilary runs, she will win the Democratic nomination. Her biggest problem will be her persona, although I am not sure why."

"Her persona—the primary is one thing, and movement to the center another, but it will be a long [general election] campaign with a lot of close examination of her record, her votes, and her past.

Democrats who say Clinton fatigue:

"Clinton fatigue and 'Hillary the liberal' will be the two big negatives."

"As my white male independent husband says, 'Clinton fatigue.'"

"Only pick ONE??"

"Clinton fatigue, defined not as exhaustion with the Clintons per se, but the certainty that the right wing will continue its relentless effort to do everything and anything possible to take the Clintons down."

"Surprisingly, in 2004 activists in early states were pragmatic first and ideological second. That underlying pragmatism will be Senator Clinton's biggest challenge."

Democrats who say perceptions that she is too liberal:

"Biggest obstacle to winning in the fall: The Republicans will go to old playbook and try to portray her as a weak-kneed liberal. But Hillary is smarter that that. Look for some Sister Souljah moments. If she runs, Hillary Clinton will be the next President.

"Too liberal. Ultimately I think that the Right will want to use her as a liberal icon—a symbol of how Democrats are out of step with regular people. I don't think that task is as easy as it sounds. She isn't very liberal and she knows how to articulate her ideas and how they are grounded in her core values."

"Gender and Clinton fatigue are tied into the negative perceptions of liberals that the GOP has successfully made a negative in two thirds of the states."

"This hurts most Democrats, especially those from the Northeast, but she can win all the states Gore and Kerry carried, plus Florida."

"Perceptions that she is too liberal. Every Democrat will be painted by the opposition as too liberal and out of step with America. The challenge is to ensure that the campaign is waged on issues of importance to the voters and not the labels placed on the candidates. If nominee Hillary Clinton can accomplish that, she'll win the White House."

"In the general election, her perceived liberalness is her biggest liability. I don't believe she can beat any moderate Republican in a head-to-head battle. In fact, I would like to know what state Democrats lost in 2004 that Hillary will be able to win in 2008. Florida? Ohio? Arizona? Maine? Arkansas? I don't see it, unless the Republican nominee is very conservative (Santorum, maybe Frist). Compare this to other potential candidates. Warner wins Virginia. Bayh wins Indiana, and makes Ohio more interesting. Richardson puts the Southwest and Florida into play. But you can't win the general if you can't win the nomination ... and I don't believe anybody can beat Hillary for the nomination."

"Same argument that the Republicans use against every Democratic nominee."

"The ultra-liberal tag is just plain wrong but remains the biggest obstacle."

Democrats who say her gender:

"Her gender—but only because she doesn't have executive experience."

"Let's be honest. Senator Clinton has all the problems listed. Some are real, and some are perceived. As Ted Kennedy was from 1972 to 1988—the presumptive nominee carrying the biggest negatives—Senator Clinton will be in 2008."

Democrats who say her persona:

"Hillary is too much of an established and polarizing personality. The only two Republicans Clinton could defeat are Tom Delay and Newt Gingrich."

"By 2008 Hillary may have enough time to remake herself—America has a very short memory—but if not, her persona hurts her. Mean, enabling, and in denial are not normally traits we like to see in our presidential candidates. Also, while many people will say they could vote for a woman, but just not this woman, they will be lying. Many Americans won't vote for any woman although that wall is rapidly crumbling."

"She's got most of Bill's negatives without his personality. People want the Clinton brain and heart."

"Her persona—she is a highly polarizing figure and may have difficulty attracting voters outside the Democratic base, voters she cannot win without."

"One question: do people trust her? If George Bush can play a shell game with WMDs, rely on faulty intelligence, run up the deficit while proclaiming to be a fiscal conservative, compromise the judiciary with controversial appointments, promote an energy policy that no one believes in, hold no one accountable for 9/11, undermine our alliances, and advocate tax breaks for the wealthy, then it is fair to say that the trust issue is up for grabs and certainly Hillary has a shot."

"Her persona—in her First Lady days and in 1992, we saw a Hillary Clinton who, under pressure, came across as unlikable and sometimes shrill. The other candidates need a long and protracted process to expose that Hillary Clinton."

"Americans loved Bill Clinton—will they love Hillary? Maybe not, but it is [also] hard to fall in love with Pataki or most of the Republican candidates."

"Her persona—which includes elements of Clinton fatigue, her gender, the perception that she is too liberal, etc.

"Persona beats the others. Some people are capable of adjusting their image as years progress. She, however, will never be able to completely [distance] herself from the woman people remember during her husband's years in office.

"It will be most difficult for Hillary to overcome her persona, or more accurately, the caricature of her created by years of right-wing media."

"Although she is bright, talented and extremely capable of handling the job, Senator Clinton has the burden of being poised to run after John Kerry. Kerry has probably soured many Democrats on Northeastern, elite intellectuals leading our party. We need someone who can relate and speak to middle-class Americans who agree with Democrats on the issues but are uncomfortable with them socially."

"I believe that Hillary is bright enough and smart enough to do the job and then some, but I do not believe this nation is ready to vote for Hillary Clinton. It is too bad—but true—that her spouse's issues still spill over onto her. On Bush, I do think that his Social Security proposals are going nowhere and his attempt to take this last package on the road is dead on arrival."

"Her persona—she has become a caricature of the liberal politician, even though it is probably not deserved."

"Her persona, but that's really an excuse for she's too liberal, too Clinton, too tough for a woman, too calculating, too ambitious (all of which translates to she's a girl not a boy).

The American people demand a certain gut level connection with their president and she has not developed that with much of Middle America, particularly in the fly-over states.

This poll was sent to one hundred thirty-one "political insiders" who regularly answer questions on politics for National Journal. One hundred twenty-four responded. The names of all 131 panelists are listed below.

DEMOCRATIC INSIDERS (67): Karen Ackerman, David Axelrod, Dave Beattie, Mike Berman, Donna Brazile, Mark Brewer, Ed Bruley, George Bruno, Deb Callahan, Joseph Cari Jr., Bill Carrick, Tony Coelho, Jim Craig, Jerry Crawford, Jim Demers, Tad Devine, Monica Dixon, Anita Dunn, Steve Elmendorf, Eric Eve, Vic Fazio, Scott Ferson, Tina Flournoy, Don Foley, Gina Glantz, Anna Greenberg, Stan Greenberg, Pat Griffin, Michael Gronstal, Marcia Hale, Laura Hartigan, Harold Ickes, Marcus Jadotte, Steve Jarding, Jim Jordan, Gale Kaufman, Celinda Lake, Jeff Link, Bill Lynch, Ellen Malcolm, Steve Marchand, Paul Maslin, Terry McAuliffe, Caroline McCarley, Gerald McEntee, Mark Mellman, John Merrigan, Steve Murphy, David Nassar, Tom Ochs, Tom O'Donnell, John Podesta, Bruce Reed, Steve Ricchetti, Susan Rice, Sheila McGuire Riggs, Will Robinson, Steve Rosenthal, John Ryan, Wendy Sherman, Erik Smith, Doug Sosnik, Jeffrey Trammell, Ed Turlington, Mike Veon, Rick Wiener, and JoDee Winterhof.

REPUBLICAN INSIDERS (64): Brett Bader, Mitch Bainwol, Gary Bauer, David Beckwith, Wayne Berman, Charlie Black, Kirk Blalock, Jeff Boeyink, Jeff Buley, Nick Calio, Jim Cicconi, Jake Corman, Diane Crookham-Johnson, Rick Davis, Mike Dennehy, Ken Duberstein, Debi Durham, Frank Fahrenkopf, Don Fierce, Alex Gage, David Girard-diCarlo, Bill Greener, Lanny Griffith, Doug Gross, Steve Hart, Chris Henick, Clark Judge, David Kensinger, Bob Kjellander, Ed Kutler, Chris Lacivita, Jim Lake, Chuck Larson, Steve Lombardo, Mary Matalin, Mark McKinnon, Kyle McSlarrow, Stephen Moore, Mike Murphy, David Norcross, Ziad Ojakli, Jack Oliver, Tony Perkins, Van B. Poole, Tom Rath, Scott Reed, Dave Rehr, Steve Roberts, David Roederer, Ed Rogers, Tony Rudy, Dan Schnur, Russ Schriefer, Rich Schwarm, Rick Shelby, Don Sipple, Fred Steeper, Warren Tompkins, Dirk van Dongen, Jan van Lohuizen, Dick Wadhams, John Weaver, Dave Winston, and Ginny Wolfe.

Presented by

James A. Barnes is a writer based in Washington, D.C. He is a former political correspondent for National Journal.

Peter Bell is the graphics editor for National Journal.

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