Hillary's False Start

by Ana Marie Cox

My former corporate masters over at Gawker are having some fun with the conceit behind my current corporate masters' idea of "interactivity":

TIME turns this week's cover into a ballot on Senator Hillary Clinton, inviting readers to vote whether they "love her" or "hate her." Readers can check their preference on the cover and mail it to TIME or they can go on TIME.com to register their "vote" starting Monday.

Gawker notes that you can go through the laborious process of writing down your vote, tearing the cover off, putting in an envelope, putting on pants, etc., or you could just "go to NewsMax, Drudge, or any other number of right-wing sites and answer the same question" -- AND get a chance to win a gift certificate for the Olive Garden... though to use it, you'd also have to wear pants so the whole thing's a wash, really. There is then a mean joke at the expense of a treasured colleague.

Mock away, Gawker, mock all you like. I've always said DC is like high school, why NOT have a vote for prom royalty? (And, hey, then maybe John Edwards will have a chance.) In any case, the conceit is based on one of the cover story's most interesting if not revelatory points: people have, uhm, strong feelings about Hillary. Undercutting the "good" news for Hillary supporters (she leads field, has good favorable ratings), is this:

Only 3% of those surveyed in the TIME poll said they had no opinion of her, positive or negative. She is the inkblot test of a polarized electorate. In the TIME poll, Democrats overwhelmingly describe her as a strong leader (77%) who has strong moral values (69%). Republicans by and large see an opportunist who would say or do anything to further her political ambitions (68%) and puts her political interests ahead of her beliefs (60%). As for independents, more than half (53%) of those surveyed said they would not support her, with 34% putting themselves in the "definitely not" category.

I think this is pretty devastating for a Hillary candidacy, at least in the general. There's not a lot of wiggle room for them to win anyone over who isn't already there -- even independents don't like her that much. (More specific parsing here.)

People here in Washington think that Hillary '08's campaign is a foregone conclusion. In fact, the one aspect of the story that's gotten most attention and the most raised eyebrows is the assertion that Hillary is "geuinely undecided" about whether or not she's running. I agree that such a statement is more of a manuever than the truth, but that's exactly why I now doubt if her candidacy is the sure thing it was even a month ago. She's the most calculating person in modern politics this side of Karl Rove; she's made a career out of appearing to risk more than she really does -- she won't run if she can't win. And these numbers make winning look really, really hard.