- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 22, 2011

The debate in Orlando Thursday night put the spotlight on Republican contenders for president. However, there is another primary race developing behind the scenes that promises to be even more interesting: a rematch between Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton for the Democratic nomination. Mrs. Clinton would be the stronger candidate in 2012 and is much more likely to keep the White House in Democratic hands.

President Obama is damaged goods. Polling data released by Gallup last week show a shocking 88 percent of Americans believe the country is heading in the wrong direction. Flip that number around and it means a tiny 12 percent are happy with the way things are going under the Obama administration. That’s outside the margin of error but definitely within the margin of stupidity. Numbers so low forewarn of almost certain doom for an incumbent.

Liberal desperation today is reminiscent of 1980 when a flailing Jimmy Carter was bloodied in a fierce primary challenge by Massachusetts Sen. Edward M. Kennedy. Commentators like to compare a potential 2012 Clinton-Obama primary competition to that Kennedy-Carter showdown and sometimes point out that both challengers were marked by scandal in previous years. It’s a poor comparison. The so-called “Lion of the Left” was definitely damaged goods after a drunk Teddy drove his car off a bridge in 1969, killing 28-year-old passenger Mary Jo Kopechne. Mrs. Clinton was at the center of quite a few scandals when her husband Bill was president but that was a long time ago, and she’s made an impressive political name for herself since as a New York senator and Cabinet member. The disgrace most remember about President Clinton was that he was a serial adulterer, but that - if anything - generates sympathy for the mistreated-yet-loyal Mrs. Clinton.

Barack should be worried because Hillary would be a formidable opponent. She’s smart and talented and can be a skilled campaigner on the stump. She’s also willing to put on a moderate false face to appeal to a broader electorate than the left-wing Democratic base. In Iowa in 2008, she praised tax cuts and even soft-pedaled her pro-abortion stance. Defectors are dangerous because they level criticism from the inside. Mrs. Clinton can say honestly that she worked hard to support this president in one of the most important posts in his Cabinet but knows from experience how incompetent and what a poor leader Mr. Obama is. It’s a compelling narrative that could win over unemployed union workers and former Reagan Democrats who are hesitant to vote for an elephant but are disgusted by how Mr. Obama has gutted the U.S. economy.

It’s now or never if Hillary wants to be president. If the GOP beats Mr. Obama next year and holds the White House for eight years, she would be 73 years old when the 2020 election rolls around. The 2012 race is Mrs. Clinton’s last chance to be part of an historic husband-wife presidential duo.

Brett M. Decker is editorial page editor of The Washington Times. He is coauthor of the forthcoming book “Bowing to Beijing” (Regnery, November 2011).