These are defining times for Republican and Democratic contenders as they wrestle for nomination to the White House, all displaying their hunger for victory.
IT WILL be me. Those were the words from Hillary Clinton’s lips during a TV interview last month, displaying raw confidence of being the Democratic ticket to the White House.
Hillary, in her own words, has not even considered the possibility that she might not be the Democrats’ chosen one.
Will her words prove prophetic? The Iowa caucuses, the first of the nominating contests, takes place 12 days from now.
By end-February, Americans will know who the anointed ones from the Republican and Democratic parties would be. (Thirty states would have made known their choice by “Super Tuesday”, Feb 5.)
Although the red-hot names on the headlines these days are the Democrat Barack Obama and Republican Mike Huckabee, the run-up is proving to be “a very unusual open season in American politics”.
“Hillary’s strength is that she is among the movers and shakers of the Democratic Party,” said Ari Fleischer, who was White House spokesman from 2001 to 2003. His views now, he said, were strictly personal and did not represent any party.
In the run for the Democratic nomination, his money is on Hillary. “She is far too strong.”
According to Fleischer, Americans are in a sour mood, unhappy about the economy and the country’s direction.
“A large part of the foul mood is directed against George Bush and the Republican Party,” he said. Hillary can capitalise on this as she is so anti-Bush.
Her downside? “She is seen as too calculated; she will take whatever position that is popular today to win tomorrow.”
Fleischer acknowledged that Hillary had her own unique set of difficulties not because she was a woman, but because she was a polarising figure. “Many Americans have firmed their opinion about her already.”
That, he said, was why Republicans would much prefer her as the rival contender.
“The atmosphere and the country’s mood favour the Democrats in a general election. But if Hillary is the Democratic nominee, it puts the race back to 50-50,” he said.
“So the trick now is how Obama and John Edwards can turn this to their advantage,” he said. They would have to convince the Democrats that they stand a better chance than Hillary to capture the Oval Office.
Dick Morris, a former political adviser to Bill Clinton, wrote: “A lot of voters are backing Hillary because they see her as a winner and they are hungry to throw the Republicans out of the White House.”
But he cautioned in an article titled For Hillary, Electability Now Equals Vulnerability Later that “those who live by their reputation for winning also can die from losing”.
“Already, Hillary is flirting with disaster by maintaining so heavy a reliance on her husband. The more a wife needs her husband to boost her to victory or to handle her opponents, the more voters will impute weakness in her and wonder if she can stand alone as president,” he said.
Based on poll numbers, Fleischer believes that Iowa will be a tight three-way race.
“Anybody can take Iowa. So do not forget John Edwards there. All his eggs are in the Iowa basket. If he doesn’t win there, it will be hard for him to take other states.”
He did not think that endorsements from celebrities would work for the contenders, referring to talk show diva Oprah Winfrey campaigning for Obama.
“It just makes good headlines,” he said.
As pointed out by a commentary in Washington Post, “much of the coverage of Oprah stumping for Obama bordered on gushing.”
“Some reporters confess that they are enjoying Hilary's slippage, if only because it enlivens what had become a predictable narrative of her cruising to victory. The prospect of a newcomer knocking off a former first lady is one heck of a story.”
On the Republican side, Fleischer said that Huckabee’s surge was partly because of a lack of satisfaction among party members over other Republican candidates.
Mitt Romney has to deal with questions about his Mormon faith while “American mayor” Rudy Giuliani has conceded that he isn’t doing well in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina polls (where the selection process takes place first). He is thus turning his attention to other states, starting with the Jan 29 Florida primary.
Fleischer said the two main issues confronting American voters were the economy and security.
“It’s a question of who will keep us safe. Sept 11 has changed the United States dramatically. It brought home vividly how important it is to be tough so that we are not attacked again. This is where foreign policy comes in. Sept 11 reminded us how vulnerable we are.”
Americans, he said, were fed up and tired of both parties. “That is why this election is so volatile.”