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Eye On Candidates
November 18, 2015

Is Clinton Becoming Inevitable – Again?

Following a tough summer in which she saw falling poll numbers, the emergence of a serious challenger from the left, and a persistent scandal over her e-mails, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appears to have regained some of the sense of inevitability that once characterized the 2016 Democratic nomination contest. Her most recent milestone on the path to the nomination is the endorsement of one of the most powerful unions in the country, as reported by The New York Times:

Hillary Clinton Gets Important Labor Backing From S.E.I.U.

The Service Employees International Union, one of the largest and most politically influential unions, threw its support behind Hillary Rodham Clinton on Tuesday, the latest indication that she is consolidating support among the institutional pillars of the Democratic Party.

The national board of the S.E.I.U. voted overwhelmingly to back Mrs. Clinton, offering her the support of a union that has been at the forefront of the push for higher wages and also taken a leadership role in the broader social justice movements animating the left. The endorsement offers Mrs. Clinton additional grass-roots support and also a symbolic statement as she fends off a populist threat from Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont….

The service employees union, which has about two million members, offers Mrs. Clinton support from a group that is about half female and includes many minorities, demographic groups she is counting on to capture the Democratic nomination. With a growing number of Hispanics joining its ranks, the group has increased its activism in recent years around immigration issues. It has also gotten involved in racial justice issues, lending its support to the Black Lives Matter movement.

The union’s support is a turnabout from the 2008 presidential race. The group delivered an important endorsement to Senator Barack Obama in February of that year, in the middle of his battle versus Mrs. Clinton, which bolstered his support at a moment when the outcome of the race was still in doubt.

Recent polling also shows she continues to be highly thought of by much of the Democratic base. From a recent CBS News article:

Democratic primary voters think former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, not Sen. Bernie Sanders, is the candidate more likely to bring about change if elected president, according to a new CBS News/ New York Times poll.

Sixty-two percent of Democratic primary voters think Clinton, the current Democratic front runner who served in the Obama administration for four years, could bring about real change in the way things are done in Washington. Fifty-one percent… think Sanders could do the same….

More specifically, Democratic primary voters think Clinton is the candidate who is more likely to get her policies enacted if she were elected president. Though majorities think both Clinton and Sanders are at least somewhat likely to get their policies enacted, more think Clinton is very likely.

Far and away, Clinton remains the candidate Democratic primary voters think has the best chance of winning a general election - 76 percent say she does. 

She also was thought by most Democrats to have won the most recent debate, held over the weekend in Des Moines, Iowa. Public Policy Polling offers these results:

A Public Policy Polling survey of Democratic primary voters nationally who watched tonight’s debate finds that it reinforced Hillary Clinton’s front runner status. Viewers overwhelmingly think she won the debate, and particularly trust her over the rest of the Democratic field when it comes to issues of national security.

Key findings from the survey include:

67% of voters think Clinton won the debate, to 20% for Bernie Sanders and 7% for Martin O’Malley. On a related note 63% of viewers said the debate gave them a more positive opinion of Clinton, compared to 41% who said it gave them a more positive opinion of Sanders, and 37% who said it gave them a more positive opinion of O’Malley….

Clinton came into tonight’s debate as the clear front runner for the Democrats and these numbers make it clear that the debate and particularly Clinton’s strength on national security issues just reinforced her front runner status.

Adding to Clinton’s air of inevitability is the fact that, for the moment at least, the policy focus for candidates in both parties appears to be on national security and foreign affairs, a topic Sen. Bernie Sanders, her chief rival for the nomination, seems either unprepared for or uninterested in discussing. The Hill reports this morning on Sanders’ need to shift his strategy:

With so much emphasis being placed on preventing another terrorist attack in the United States, Sanders is being pushed into territory he hadn’t planned to tread.

“If voters don’t see you as addressing the things they are worrying about and thinking about, you probably won’t get their attention,” said Joel Rubin, a former deputy secretary of State for House affairs under Secretary of State John Kerry…. 

Although Sanders addressed his ideas on combating terrorism later in the debate, some Democrats were surprised by his apparent unwillingness to delve into the issue.

“All of a sudden I heard this jarring switch to income inequality,” Democratic strategist Brad Bannon said about how Sanders kicked off the debate in Iowa.

As the article observes, Sanders appears resistant to getting away from his core message.

“There are those, including many Republicans, some in the media, who think that because of this horrific attack, the only thing we should focus on is defeating ISIS,” he said.

“Yes, we will lead the world in defeating ISIS, but at the same time, we will rebuild the disappearing middle class of this country. We are a great nation, and we can accomplish both goals.” 

Sanders has consistently put his focus on the economy while on the trail; his campaign website only added a “war and peace” section in late September, weeks before the first Democratic debate.

It’s unclear whether Sanders will be able to successfully shift his strategy to include more on the issue of national security, but it does seem clear that Clinton’s path to the nomination has looked much brighter than before over the past several weeks. Of course, her path to the nomination looked fairly bright at this point in the election cycle in 2007, too, so it’s probably not time to be putting the “inevitable” label on her yet.