Wither Hillary?

Not whither, as in where is she going, but wither, as in shrivel up and fade away.

<Let’s pause for a word from our sponsor while the pro- and anti-Hillary forces rush to their respective barricades and snatch up their brickbats (does anybody know what a brickbat is, by the way?) and slings…>

Everybody sufficiently ready?

OK, back to our program…

In the interest of full disclosure, I like Hillary and think she’d make a good president. I have been and am still planning to vote for her. She remains the odds on favorite to capture the nomination.

I also, however, think she is almost certainly unelectable by the general populace. More than any other credible candidate, she has “high unfavorables” that are enduring and she has no place to go to pick up undecided voters. Consider the last half-dozen USA Today polls which asked, “We’d like to get your overall opinion of some people in the news. As I read each name, please say if you have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of these people or if you have never heard of them. How about Hillary Clinton?”

Favorable/Unfavorable Ratings April-July 2007

Couple of things to notice about these numbers (and the comparables for Obama and Edwards).

First, Hillary regularly polls a deficit in the favorable/unfavorable spread, a real problem for any candidate, but particularly for one with such a low undecided number.

Second, those undecided, as low as they are, aren’t going to tip the scales in her favor. It’s worth noting that for Hillary ALL of that number is from the undecided column; everyone knows who she is. To be undecided about a politician with universal name recognition really means you don’t like him or her but don’t want to tell the pollster for some reason (other great lies told pollsters inflate the number of people willing to vote for blacks, women and people of other religions).

In plain English, these numbers say, “About 50 percent of the voting population knows and doesn’t like Hillary.” There aren’t too many political success stories that are built from an opening line like that.

Third, Edwards and Obama don’t have high negatives, but they have pretty strong favorables. Unlike Hillary, though, I suspect their numbers – and particularly Obama’s – are “soft” in that they are based on limited knowledge of the candidate (yes, Edwards was the VP nominee, but outside of the Democratic partisans, I bet we’d be appalled with how few people remember that). The job of the campaigns – theirs and their opponents – are to fill in the colors in the sketch.

Another sign of the difficulty that Hillary faces can be found in the head-to-head “If the election were held today and the candidates were…” numbers. No matter who the Republican is – McCain, Romney, Guiliani – Hillary has trouble breaking 50 percent. Her lesser known rivals do as well or better and they – as mentioned – still have some upside to try and capture.

A lot of the bigwig money people in the Democratic party know about Hillary’s problem and Hillary knows they know. That is why her campaign started so early and is trying to create an aura of inevitability about her candidacy. The fact that Obama out-fundraised her in the second quarter of the year – $32.5 million to $27 million – suggests that not everyone within the Democratic party is willing to concede her inevitability.

The second quarter reports aren’t on the FEC’s website, but the 1st quarter reports show Hillary raising $25,818,302 from 15,171 individual contributors and Obama $25,700,413 from 16,971 individuals. That works out to an average of $1,702 per contributor for Hillary and $1514 per Obama contributor. Clearly, there’s some big money investing in Obama ’08. If you want true man-of-the-people campaigns, you need to check out the outliers like Brownback, Tancredo and Kucinich.

The Center for Responsive Politics has a very cool site for those interested in following the money in this election cycle. Here’s a snapshot of the 1st quarter reports (the chart doesn’t scale well but if you click on it, you should see a better version):

Fundraising Summary

Still, the schedule – especially with the rush to front-load the schedule – continues to favor Hillary and she continues to act like a team playing for the NFC championship with a 10-point lead in the third quarter. “No mistakes, no risky plays.”

But, Obama is playing a pretty good game of catch-up and I can’t point to too many first-timer errors his campaign has made.

Commence brickbatting at will.

– Austin