Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Clinton Caucus Complaints Simmered Till At Least 2012

It's a lot to read into one line, and the context is clearly a critique of the state of the Republican race in January 2012. The word "Iowa" does not appear.

But in yesterday's batch of Hillary Clinton emails, this one stood out:

Three weeks after the 2012 caucuses, and more importantly four years and three weeks after her third place finish in the 2008 caucuses, Clinton is still a caucus critic.

I spent years obsessing over the blind quotes in Mark Halperin's Game Change, in which Hilary was quoted as asking "how many times do I have to talk to the same people?!?" and Bill Clinton is cited as charging the Obama campaign with caucus fraud. I reported the softer critiques made in public even before caucus night 2008. I've been told not to pass judgement on things people say in the moment of defeat, to focus on Now rather than Then, and asked nicely to let it go.

But it's out there again, and "Then" just got four years closer to the present. The offhand comment is consistent with all the past criticism.

It may be the wrong thing to ask, and may be the ultimate obsession of a spoiled Iowan. But I have yet to hear Hillary Clinton make a direct reference, positive or even negative, to Iowa as First In The Nation or to the Iowa caucuses as a process. There are references to the date, and asks to get out and caucus, but never a reference to Iowa's place in the process.

In fairness, Bernie Sanders isn't saying those things either (the only Democratic candidate with a deep connection to Iowa as First In The Nation is that old Gary Hart field staffer, Martin O'Malley). But Sanders doesn't have a track record of attacking caucuses as a process.

And Hillary 2016 is not Hillary 2008. The Clinton campaign seems to be working from the Obama 2008 playbook. On the staffing and organizational level, the commitment to caucuses is clear. Here in the People's Republic, you see lots of Bernie signs and t-shirts. But from my front row seat in the auditor's office, it's Team Hillary that's bringing in the voter registrations (presumably with commit cards back at HQ).

Clinton also has an overwhelming share of support from the core of elected officials and party activists, the kinds of folks who care about First, than she had in 2008 when those endorsements were splintered.

(UPDATE: She must have read this post because Hillary just announced visits to Ft. Dodge and Sioux City on Friday.)

All that's very good. But none of that is in the candidate's own words. Given the negative track record on the subject, it would be nice to hear an explicit, public Iowa Stays First from Hillary Clinton herself.

The irony is that the Iowa caucuses could play the role in strengthening Clinton's candidacy that the New Hampshire primary did in 2008. Given current polling it's very easy to see a scenario where Hillary wins Iowa, Bernie wins next door New Hampshire, and then Hillary sweeps through the South and de facto clinches the nomination Super Tuesday.

If that plays out and she wins, it puts President Clinton 45 (to distinguish from Bill H.W. Clinton) in command of the Democratic Party structure and process for 2020. Question is: when she thinks of Iowa, will she think of 2016... or 2008?

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