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Eye On Candidates
August 13, 2015

Clinton, Biden and Bachmann, Oh My!

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s decision to turn over the private server she used for her e-mail, coming on the heels of further controversy over whether she sent classified material through the private e-mail system, appears to be raising concerns among many Democrats about what it might mean for her path to the nomination and/or the White House. The Hill reports:

Dems near Clinton panic mode

Democrats are worried that the furor over Hillary Clinton’s private email server will be prolonged and intensified after her sudden move to hand it to the FBI. 

The Clinton campaign’s decision to give up the server and a thumb-drive containing back-up copies of emails left Democrats scratching their heads as to why the former secretary of State had resisted turning over the server for months.

Coupled with new polls that suggest Clinton is vulnerable, Democrats are nearing full-on panic mode. 

 “I’m not sure they completely understand the credibility they are losing, by the second,” said one Democratic strategist, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “At some point this goes from being something you can rationalize away to something that becomes political cancer. And we are getting pretty close to the cancer stage, because this is starting to get ridiculous.”

Contributing to Democratic worries, according to the story, is Clinton’s falling poll numbers, not only against Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders but also in head-to-head matchups against possible Republican opponents as well as on questions related to honesty and trustworthiness.

Among other observations in the piece, there seems to be concern about the Clinton campaign’s failure to grasp fairly elementary political communications strategies:

[C]oncerned Democrats keep coming back to the same question: Why did the Clinton campaign not simply hand over the private server when the controversy first erupted in March?

“It’s bizarre,” said the Democratic strategist. “Let me give you some simple strategic communications advice: Put everything out first, on your terms. If you wait, or you are forced to do it, you always lose and look bad…That is exactly what is happening here, and I find it inexplicable.”

The article suggests Clinton’s perceived weakness could either bolster Sanders’ campaign or entice another candidate into the race, with Vice President Joe Biden apparently at the top of the list of alternatives. In that vein, The Wall Street Journal carries a report this morning that Biden is evaluating his options and contacting potential supporters while on vacation in South Carolina:

From his vacation spot on Kiawah Island, Mr. Biden is giving the strongest signal yet that he is actively considering making a third run at the presidency. He is asking political allies for advice and gauging the strength of Mrs. Clinton’s campaign as he weighs his options, people familiar with the matter said. Mr. Biden is expected to announce his decision next month….

A late Biden entry would pose significant challenges in terms of building the sort of campaign and fundraising operation needed to compete with Clinton, according to the article:

He’d have to start from scratch. Mr. Biden has no super PAC to back his candidacy with independent fundraising or a network of paid staff in early voting states. And Mrs. Clinton has already signed up some of the party’s most seasoned pollsters, fundraisers and data analysts. His entry also could prompt Mrs. Clinton’s supporters to rally around her if her potentially historic candidacy is threatened.

 “She’s been working at this a long time and has built a massive operation,” said Brady Quirk-Garvan, chairman of the Charleston County Democratic Party in South Carolina. “Even people who like the idea of Joe Biden running would have to sit there and think, ‘Can he build an operation that would be able to defeat Hillary in four to six months?’ That’s much harder to do in this day and age than you would think.”

 Difficult as it might be, the former U.S. senator would come to the race with built-in advantages as an incumbent vice president who has spent decades in politics. Longtime Democratic fundraisers already have said they would be willing to hedge their bets, which could help him raise cash fast….

 As a candidate, Mr. Biden could peel off some of the mainstream Democratic support Mrs. Clinton is counting on to hold off Mr. Sanders, an independent who has gained enthusiastic support among the party’s liberal wing. Mr. Biden may also attract a broader constituency in a general election, including rust-belt Democrats, Catholics and white, working-class men, with whom he has some cultural affinity.

The Journal article notes that the apparent weakness of Clinton’s frontrunner status could lure Biden into the race:

Mrs. Clinton remains the front-runner for the party’s nomination in national polls, yet some party activists are growing anxious because of the expanding probes of her use of a private email server while secretary of state.

“There are Democrats who are concerned about the turmoil swirling around the secretary with the emails and the server, and now the FBI is investigating and congressional hearings are coming up in the fall,” said Steve Shurtleff, the Democratic leader in the New Hampshire House of Representatives and a Biden supporter in the 2008 presidential campaign….

 Meantime, Mrs. Clinton has been unable to put to rest controversies involving foreign donations to the Clinton Foundation and her use of the private email system while at the State Department. On Tuesday, Mrs. Clinton’s campaign announced she was turning that server over to the Justice Department, after she said a few months back that she wouldn’t relinquish it. Federal Bureau of Investigation agents have been looking into the security surrounding Mrs. Clinton’s email system after government watchdogs found at least four of her emails that contained classified information.

Whether Clinton’s campaign continues to cause alarm among the Democrats and if that might draw Biden into the race won’t be known for several weeks at least. But as a reminder of how much things can change between August and the first votes in the Iowa caucuses in February, Bloomberg Politics brings this historical footnote:

On This Day Last Cycle: Michele Bachmann Won the Now-Defunct Straw Poll

Four years ago today, Michele Bachmann was on top. 

Thursday marks the four-year anniversary of the last Iowa Straw Poll, may it rest in peace. Bachmann, then a conservative representative from Minnesota, had been performing well in Iowa polls leading up to the event, which was part of a fundraiser for the state's Republican Party. She won with 4,823 votes, just managing to beat out then Texas Representative Ron Paul, who got 4,671 votes, the Washington Post reported

 “What we saw happen today is this is the very first step toward taking the White House in 2012, and you have just sent a message that Barack Obama will be a one-term president,” Bachmann said at the time. 

Bachmann, of course, finished sixth in the Iowa caucuses and dropped out the next day. A lot can happen between now and the official start of the nomination process.