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Hillary, Unpreconceived

By Salena Zito

Preconceptions are a powerful thing. And no candidate is surrounded by more preconceptions than Hillary Clinton.

Purdue University political science professor Bert Rockman says that lined up next to the other Democrat candidates Hillary has done an effective job of carving out the center for her party. In comparison, she is "a remarkably moderate figure with highly polarized perspectives about her ... that have become much more important than her actual behavior."

The first serious female candidate for president since Shirley Chisholm in 1972, Hillary gained strength in last week's CNN-YouTube debate. "She showed solid evidence why (her nomination) is inevitable," said one high-level Democrat insider, who has not yet picked a horse in the race.

Rockman won't go that far. Yet. "I don't think that it is inevitable," he said. "Probable, but not inevitable.

"But if I had to bet my money, I would certainly bet on her as the favorite and give it fairly short odds that she will come up with the nomination."

Some of the preconceptions about Hillary are that she cannot capture the female vote, that her unfavorables are too high and that the "netroots" of the blogosphere will not throw their energy behind her.

But some political experts disagree.

Women, a constituency already conflicted between Hillary and Obama, also are divided on Hillary. She does very well with distinct segments of the female population - black women, working women and single women. But she doesn't do as well among highly educated women in any category.

"I think that you can get all kinds of juicy quotes from the Hillary haters," said Susan Hansen, a professor of political science and women's studies at the University of Pittsburgh. "But if you look at the raw data of how people voted in 2000 and 2006 in the New York (U.S.) Senate elections, you will see that she did not have a woman-problem. Quite the opposite."

The importance of progressive bloggers has increased geometrically. And despite the preconception that they will not support her, it turns out they are.

Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, founder of Daily Kos, the must-read political blog for progressives, dispelled the no-way notion: "I would not have a problem getting behind Hillary and I don't think that many people would."

Zuniga's past arguments against Hillary have not been on her presidential merits but that she would hurt the back of the ballot - U.S. House and Senate races. "I have got to admit that recently I am less concerned about that," he says. "I think things like Iraq and this Bush presidency are more salient than a bunch of people that hate her."

When it comes to polling on a national level, the anti-Hillary argument has been that she has high unfavorables, a fact her campaign concedes.

But Hillary's "unfavorables" -- ranging from 40 percent to 45 percent -- are not much higher than the 35 percent unfavorable rating of a generic Democrat.

John McIntyre, co-founder and president of, known for its dead-on polling data, believes Hillary has established a solid 10- to 15-point lead in the polls for the nomination. "Our national poll average for the Democratic nomination has had her at that range now for a fair amount of time," he said.

Numbers don't lie but they can be parsed. There's plenty of data that suggests Hillary is not as "unelectable" as some Democrats believe, or as "inevitable" many others believe. Put this in a political math equation and it comes out as "certainly possible."

Hillary Clinton said in last week's debate that she is "excited ... that I may be able, finally, to break that hardest of all glass ceilings."

To that end, Purdue's Rockman says he doesn't "see a winner at the moment among the Republican candidates. "Yes, someone is going to come out of the nomination a winner but whether they are going to be able to do it in the general election, that is another story."

Salena Zito is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review editorial page columnist. E-mail her at

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