Monday, October 1, 2007

October 1, 2007

I've been reading a lot of stories lately about how Hillary Clinton is becoming the "inevitable" Democratic nominee. Don't bet big money on it. Nothing is more fragile in politics that inevitability, especially when nobody--that's nobody--has voted yet. I should know; I'm old enough to remember President Muskie. For those of you who aren't, Edmund Muskie was a popular Democratic senator from Maine. He'd gotten good reviews as Humbert Humphrey's running mate in 1968. In the early days of the '72 campaign, the polls showed him the frontrunner among the Democrats; some showed him beating Richard Nixon in a general election. It didn't last. The Democrats had some new rules in effect in '72, and Iowa held its first-ever presidential caucuses that year. A fairly unknown South Dakota senator, George McGovern, had studied the new system, campaigned hard in Iowa and finished, as we all wrote, a surprisingly strong second to Muskie. Then, in New Hampshire, Muskie choked up, or broke down, while denouncing the publisher of the Manchester Union Leader for printing attacks on Muskie's wife, Jane. It made for dramatic TV footage. I remember a voter in some other state a week or two later saying, "I was for him until the day he sat down in the snow and cried." In fact, Muskie was standing the whole time. Did he cry? His face was wet, but a lot of that was snow. "Cry" was a verb we mostly didn't use. But he did choke up, break down, whatever - and that was pretty much that. Last time there was Vermont Gov. Howard Dean--way ahead in fund raising, way ahead in endorsements, Al Gore, Bill Bradley and a small army of governors and senators. And then, instead of just awarding him the nomination, Iowa held those pesky caucuses again. Gov. Dean finished third and that finished him. John Kerry was the nominee and, of course, lost to George W. Bush. So inevitability is tricky. Clinton is doing what frontrunners do--playing it safe, ducking questions, straddling issues. "Don't make a mistake," is the frontrunner's mantra. But that in itself can be a mistake. While Clinton's favorable ratings are up in in most polls, so are her unfavorables--high thirties, low forties, somewhere in there. And she's been in our faces for sixteen years now. Voters may want someone new. Anyway, to paraphrase Mr. Yogi Berra, it ain't over.

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