Excerpt Of The Day: Hillary And Mark Warner

If you’re wondering why Hillary is talked about as if she’s a lock to win the Democratic nomination in 2008, despite the fact that a lot of Democrats seem to doubt whether she can win, then take a look at these behind-the-scenes details from an article on Mark Warner in the New York Times and it’ll all make a lot more sense:

“The Democratic field now emerging, on the other hand, is looking a lot like Gladys Knight and the Pips — and you can guess who gets to be Gladys. The party’s insiders, expecting Clinton to be a virtually unstoppable force, seem to be falling in line behind her, which means there will be only so much additional money and organization left over for those who would challenge her.

…If Hillary Clinton does decide to run for president, no matter who ultimately runs against her for the party’s nomination, she will begin with the kind of institutional advantages that have been reserved, in the past, for vice presidents like Walter Mondale and Al Gore. It starts with money. At the end of last year, according to the Hotline, the venerable Washington online digest, Clinton had more than $17 million in the bank for her re-election campaign in New York — and no serious opponent to spend it against. By contrast, Warner, capping what was widely considered a surprisingly sound fund-raising season, had amassed a little under $2.5 million for his political action committee, But that’s not the whole story. Thanks to the inscrutable wonder of campaign finance laws, Clinton can roll every penny that she doesn’t spend on her Senate campaign into a presidential account, which is why she could well start a bid for the White House with as much as $75 million, on course to obliterate the party’s previous fund-raising records. No matter how much a governor like Warner raises in his political action committee, on the other hand, the rules say that he can’t spend any of it on a presidential run; it can go only for general political activity, mostly backing other candidates. This means that should Warner decide to run, he’ll have to start again from zero, while Clinton is backing up 18-wheelers to the bank.

…So formidable are the obstacles to challenging Clinton that even a lot of party operatives who don’t think she’s the best candidate are likely to work for her, just to be on the winning side. And this is precisely the strategy that her team has thus far cultivated. Just as Karl Rove set out to make George W. Bush’s nomination seem inevitable in 2000, successfully freezing much of the money and talent that might have flowed to his competitors, so, too, do Clinton’s advisers seem to be sending out signals that resistance is not only futile but also dangerous. When I asked Warner’s aides for permission to attend some of his policy briefings in January, word came back that the outside experts who had been asked to make presentations, some of whom worked in the Clinton administration, balked because they were afraid the Clinton camp would find out that they were granting courtesies to another candidate. No one wants to cross the party’s presumed nominee.”

By the way, Warner would be the best candidate the Democrats could run in 2008, but it seems unlikely that he’ll get the nod. After you read the following excerpts from the same article, you’ll see why:

“When a lot of National Democrats first took note of Warner in 2001, they didn’t love what they saw. Running for governor in a state where Democrats were in sharp retreat, Warner courted the National Rifle Association and let it be known he’d support parental notification for minors seeking abortions. His outreach to Nascar devotees and bluegrass fans in southern Virginia struck Democrats in the urban North — as well as many of those across the Potomac River in Washington — as unseemly pandering.

…Warner argues that, nationally, the cultural perception of the party and its most visible leaders — Clinton, Kerry, Howard Dean, Nancy Pelosi — isn’t much different from what it was back then. Results do matter to voters, Warner says, but only if you make it impossible for Republicans to paint your nominee as another protester-turned-windsurfer who looks down on people who go to a megachurch and like to watch the stock cars race.

…The problem for Warner is that, a year from now, liberals who like the idea of a Southern governor on the ticket will nonetheless want to know where he stands on the party’s perennial issues. Then Warner will have to explain to his party’s power brokers why he believes that Medicaid should be retooled and why he embraces free trade and why he believes that nuclear power should be explored. Bill Clinton managed to secure the nomination in 1992 even after confronting Big Labor and African-American activists, but he didn’t face a serious challenge from the party’s more liberal wing — and he didn’t have to run against his wife.

Warner may have glimpsed a piece of his future when he attended a dinner of wealthy Democrats last summer at the Bay Area home of Mark Buell and his wife, Susie Tompkins Buell, well-connected contributors and close friends of the Clintons. Warner made some introductory comments about “the Virginia story,” but the first several questions were not about taxes or schools or health care, but about gay marriage (which he’s against), the death penalty (which he’s for) and abortion (he’s in favor of parental notification but vetoed a bill banning all late-term abortions). Warner thought his liberal guests would be interested in his policies to improve Virginia schools and raise the standard of living in rural areas; instead, it seemed to him, they thought that they understood poverty and race in an intellectual way that he, as a red-state governor, could not. Like a lot of politicians, Warner can be snappish when he feels he isn’t being heard, and the dialogue quickly grew testy.

At the end of the evening, according to people who were there, as some of the guests walked Warner to his car, one woman vowed to educate him on abortion rights. That was all he could take. “This is why America hates Democrats,” a frustrated Warner blurted out before driving away. (Still piqued a month later, Warner, speaking to The Los Angeles Times, summarized the attitude of the assembled guests about their plans to save the country: “You little Virginia Democrat, how can you understand the great opportunities we have?”)”

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