- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Can Hillary win in November? That one question about the 2008 presidential election has been asked more than any other within Democratic ranks. But lately, given her campaign messaging and strategy, it’s not unreasonable to wonder if she will even secure the Democratic nomination.

Sen. Hillary Clinton’s refusal to apologize for her vote authorizing the Iraq war appears politically tone-deaf to the mood of most Democrats, and her Washington-style campaign seems indifferent to the thirst for change that is palpable among Americans suffering from Bush fatigue.

The extraordinarily early interest in the 2008 presidential election extends beyond the usual suspects of party loyalists. It’s not surprising to hear people already chattering in airports, coffee shops, taxicabs and homes across the country about potential presidential candidates. Why? People are tired of President Bush and change can’t come fast enough.

Multiple polls and last year’s congressional elections are evidence that a majority of Americans who once supported the war now oppose it. The new anti-war majority is more than a little suspicious that a better alternative to an outright war wasn’t found because Mr. Bush wasn’t interested in searching for it. They also hold Congress accountable for abdicating responsibility by failing to apply the breaks to Mr. Bush’s lighting fast run-up to the war. Americans are increasingly concluding that the rising costs — measured in terms of soldiers returning home wounded or worse — have far outpaced the war’s worth by creating a more unstable region where breeding terrorists will become easier after the war than it was pre-invasion.

So how does Mrs. Clinton, the most well-known Democratic candidate of all, position herself within this political morass, where Democrats especially are in the full throes of Bush fatigue? Surprisingly, she refuses to apologize for her vote favoring a war that her Democratic base and a majority of Americans overwhelmingly oppose.

When asked in February about her 2002 Senate resolution vote to authorize the Iraq war, Mrs. Clinton responded: “I have taken responsibility for that vote [to authorize the war]. It was based on the best assessment that I could make at the time.” But others made the right choice at the time based on the same assessments. They recognized that the race to war could have been slowed down or more narrowly defined.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, said in opposing the war: “The power to declare war is the most solemn responsibility given to Congress by the Constitution. We must not delegate that responsibility to the president in advance.”

If the Iraq war vote was Mrs. Clinton’s way to demonstrate strength, resolve and certainty as a leader, it has backfired. Mrs. Clinton has now left the issue unresolved and open for more criticism as she continues to twist in the wind, struggling to find an acceptable message that falls short of admitting she made a mistake. This is the opposite of strong and resolute. It also rings hollow as a statement accepting responsibility.

Democrats are fed up with Mr. Bush for avoiding his own war responsibility by never admitting his errors. Why would they want to select as their own nominee someone to do more of the same?

Meanwhile, Mrs. Clinton’s campaign seeks to solidify Hillary as the Democratic establishment candidate by attempting to create an air of inevitability that strong arms a path to securing her the Democratic nomination. Mailings, e-mails and talking points are full of how much money has been raised and how well she is polling, a practice that is standard operating procedure for a Washington-style campaign.

The content and cadence of her speeches are delivered with precision, but with little flourish and risk — as if she were running not to lose an election more than to win an election.

The coronation for the Democratic nomination some expected for Mrs. Clinton is slowing. Turns out you shouldn’t expect a coronation when your base voters believe that you still haven’t come clean on their single most important issue.

It’s also hard to buy into someone as a candidate for change when they offer flat, sterile, safe speeches and talking points instead of new ideas and a new vision. It’s as if Mrs. Clinton has surrendered the message of change, hope and optimism to Barack Obama and John Edwards.

This isn’t a foundation for victory. It’s shaky ground. If warning bells aren’t going off over at Clinton campaign headquarters, they should be.

The poll numbers they once trumpeted are now declining among Democratic primary voters. An ABC News/Washington Post poll showed Clinton support dropping to 36 percent from 41 percent in January. A February Fox News poll showed her support eroding to 34 percent from 43 percent. With her opponents known less than her, it is likely they will continue to grow support and shrink Mrs. Clinton’s advantage.

Mrs. Clinton and her political advisers need to throw away their old campaign playbook leftover from past elections. In today’s political environment, it’s a loser. It is hard to imagine Mrs. Clinton could have done any more to kick open the door for another candidate to pass through and to capture the imagination of Democrats with a message of hope, optimism, accountability and change.

Can Hillary win in November? That question seems premature now that the door to an epic Democratic nomination battle has been opened.

Bud Jackson is a Democratic media strategist.

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