- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 26, 2007

Another week passes, and on Page One of the New York Times there appears yet another ominous report on the perils facing New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s presidential prospects.

First the Times reported on the ambivalence of Hillary’s Wellesley classmates toward her. Now the Times reports a growing number of New York’s black political leaders look favorably toward her main rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, Ilinois Sen. Barack Obama, who is black. “Rise of Obama strains loyalty on Clinton turf,” is the headline.

The “turf” in question is New York’s black Democratic electorate. In the 2004 New York state primary black Democrats composed 20 percent of their party’s turnout. The Clinton camp has reason to worry.

Expecting Hillary to campaign effectively against Mr. Obama in the black community is expecting a lot from this middle-aged suburban lawyer, educated in the Ivy League. So the Clinton campaign is rousing America’s “first black president,” her husband Bill, to address black and Hispanic groups. Actually when the black novelist Toni Morrison first esteemed the Boy President as our “first black president” I doubt she recognized the irony. Of all America’s previous presidents, the one who most closely approximates Mr. Clinton, in presidential achievements and in personal frailties, is President Warren Gamaliel Harding, a much loved rascal, who irony of ironies, was rumored to have black ancestry — not a compliment in his day, but neither would it be a compliment then to appraise a president a “rock star” or even a “vaudeville star.” Times change.

With Mr. Obama all Americans — white and black — are getting a candidate of sounder character than Mr. Clinton or Harding.

Moreover, for a political newcomer Mr. Obama is mounting a surprisingly formidable campaign. He has rarely misspoken and he seems well organized. In the first 90 days of 2007 he raised more money for the primaries than Hillary ($24.8 million to $19.1 million) and he raised it from a wider base, more that 108,000 for Mr. Obama, 50,000 for Hillary.

Hillary’s supporters seem to be what we might call the Democratic Party’s old money, Hollywood and Wall Street. Mr. Obama’s supporters might be seen as new money, younger donors, donors from the Internet.

Increasingly it appears Hillary has troubles within the Democratic base, for instance with blacks and the next generation of angry left-wingers. Thus desperation is creeping in. She is caught affecting a phony African-American accent in addressing blacks. Talk radio and Drudge boom it across the land — more desperation.

No wonder two publishing houses, having invested heavily in books on Hillary, are rushing them out. If she does not turn this campaign around she may not make it through the primaries. This week we heard that Carl Bernstein’s “A Woman in Charge” will be out June 19. Two months later, possibly sooner, “Her Way” by Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta will be out.

I find the challenges facing Hillary’s nomination all very gratifying. In my current book chronicling the Boy President’s adventures in retirement, “The Clinton Crack-Up,” I predict her problems. She is not a natural politician, and I even doubt she is all that tough a political campaigner. Truth be known, she is very cautious.

When I crashed her husband’s 60th birthday party in Toronto, I found myself seated with two of his top aides. They were lamentably garrulous fellows, and I was all ears. They had no idea who I was. It was early autumn. The 2006 off-year elections had yet to be decided. One Clinton aide allowed as how Hillary had yet to decide on a presidential run. She wanted to see how well the Democrats did in November. If they did well, she would probably run. If they did badly, she would probably not run. And one other thing: She was very apprehensive about running against Sen. John McCain. With former Mayor Rudy Giuliani in the race, my guess is she worries about facing either of these Republican front-runners.

Now in her own party she faces the growing threat of Mr. Obama. For Hillary, these are parlous, even daunting, times.

R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. is founder and editor in chief of the American Spectator, a contributing editor to the New York Sun and an adjunct scholar at the Hudson Institute. His book, “The Clinton Crack-Up: The Boy President’s Life After the White House,” has just been published by Thomas Nelson.

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