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November 26th, 2014

Insight

What ol' Dick Nixon could have taught Hillary

Michael Barone

By Michael Barone

Published August 19, 2014

What ol' Dick Nixon could have taught Hillary

Just about everyone noticed Hillary Clinton's scathing comments on President Obama's foreign policy in her interview with The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg.

But almost no one has noticed where Clinton hasn't been seen. That's on the campaign trail or at fundraisers for Democrats running for the Senate.

Obama hasn't been on the campaign trail much either, for the very good reason that he has low approval ratings in the seven states carried by 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney where Democrats are defending Senate seats.

But at least Obama's been busy raising money; up in Martha's Vineyard, seemingly the heartland of today's Democratic Party, he spoke, between golf games, at his 400th political fundraiser.

Clinton here is following the opposite course of a politician she has been compared to frequently, though usually not by her admirers: Richard Nixon.

As Patrick Buchanan shows in his recent and characteristically vividly written book, "The Greatest Comeback: How Richard Nixon Rose From Defeat to Create the New Majority," Nixon campaigned tirelessly for Republican candidates in the 1966 midterm elections.

That election produced big Republican gains, including 47 House seats (contrary to the obituaries written for the party after Barry Goldwater's 1964 defeat), and helped elect Nixon president in 1968.

So why isn't Clinton following Nixon's example? For reasons as clear-eyed as her takedowns of Obama. First, she is in a stronger position to win her party's nomination today than Nixon was 48 years ago.

Second, she, unlike Nixon in 1966 and like most sober-minded observers this year, doesn't see this as a good year for her party.

One reason is structural. The Senate seats up for grabs this year are in states that, on average, voted 52 percent for Romney and 46 percent for Obama in 2012. Obama won by an average of only 50.1 percent in seats now held by Democrats and received only 39 percent of the vote in states with seats held by Republicans.

We are not likely to see Clinton campaigning in the seven states with Democratic senators that Romney carried in 2012. Not even in Arkansas, Louisiana or West Virginia, which Bill Clinton carried twice, or Montana, which he carried in 1992.

A year ago, Democrats hoped to hold onto their Senate majority by stressing local issues, accusing Republicans of waging a "war on women" and capitalizing on the defects and mistakes of Republican candidates.

But in a sluggish economy, with one Obamacare miscue after another and a world in violent disarray, promises of free contraception don't seem to be moving many voters, and some local issues are working more against Democrats than for them.

That's apparent in Colorado, a state that twice voted for Obama and where polls now show a tie between Sen. Mark Udall and Republican Rep. Cory Gardner. Democrats hoped for a weaker Republican nominee, but Gardner entered late, and other Republicans stepped aside.

There's also a backlash in Colorado against severe gun restrictions passed by the Democratic legislature and ineptly defended by Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper. And Democrats are split on fracking. Early this month, Hickenlooper and Udall pressured Rep. Jared Polis to drop support for two anti-fracking ballot initiatives, fearing they will be political poison in an energy-producing state.

In a TV spot, Gardner says his family's health insurance was canceled. That may remind voters that Udall's staff was accused of pressuring the state insurance director to suppress reports that 250,000 Coloradans had policies canceled because of Obamacare.

In Iowa, another state that went for Obama twice, Democrats hoped Rep. Bruce Braley would easily replace 30-year Democratic incumbent Tom Harkin. But state Sen. Joni Ernst, who grew up on a farm and became a lieutenant colonel in the National Guard, easily won the Republican nomination, and Braley has made one blunder after another.

Videotape shows him speaking to Texas trial lawyers and disparaging Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley as "a farmer from Iowa who never went to law school." Grassley won in 2010 with 64 percent of the vote.

Braley's wife took issue with a few chickens crossing onto her property, and the Braleys filed a complaint this year with the Holiday Lake homeowners association. At the Iowa State Fair, Braley spoke mainly with reporters, not Iowans. Not very neighborly.

Will Clinton stump in Colorado, a state held up as an example of Democratic gains, or Iowa, a state not usually avoided by presidential candidates? That might force her to weigh in on Obamacare, illegal border crossings and fracking.

In 1966, Nixon's campaigning helped Republicans gain five Senate and those 47 House seats. Clinton is apparently afraid she can't match that record.

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JWR contributor Michael Barone is senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner.

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