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The Left Comes After Hillary

Arianna Huffington is the latest on the left to challenge the conventional wisdom that Hillary is a lock for the Democratic nomination. She lampoons the argument by Eleanor Clift and Mike McCurry that Hillary has been able to win over upstate New Yorkers and thus will be competitive in winning red-states.

"Like Moses leading her party to the Promised Land," wrote Eleanor Clift in Newsweek, "Hillary is treading a path to Red-State America. She may be the darling of the liberal left, but she won in New York by appealing to upstate voters who are traditionally Republican."

Clinton insider Mike McCurry agreed: "Hillary really went upstate New York and won the hearts of people there. That's hard to do, because that's pretty much red-state country in some of those counties up there."

Sounds very convincing. The trouble is, it's wrong -- as Marisa Katz shows in this week's New Republic in her terrific takedown of the Upstate = Red State myth. "Numbers-wise," Katz writes, "upstate [New York] is far more purple than red." And she reminds us that "even in this less-than-hostile-terrain" Hillary "actually lost upstate by three points to her 2000 opponent, Rick Lazio."

Even more damning is the fact that the presidential runs of both Al Gore and John Kerry attracted more upstate voters -- and carried more upstate counties -- than Hillary did. "If Gore and Kerry won upstate New York," writes Katz, "but couldn't make sufficient red-state inroads, Clinton's loss upstate doesn't seem to bode well for her potential in truly red parts of the country." The final nail in the upstate/redstate coffin: Hillary's upstate numbers are very similar to those of the senior senator from New York, Chuck Schumer -- and, as Katz zings it, "no one is talking him up as the Democrats' best chance to reclaim the White House."

Huffington is right to disabuse the notion that Hillary’s victory over Rick Lazio in New York automatically proves she will be competitive against the GOP in states like Ohio, Florida and Colorado.

Arianna goes on to suggest that the conventional wisdom regarding Hillary’s strength among the Democratic base is misinterpreted as well:

The other side of the Hillary-can't-miss equation is her strength with the Democratic base. You often hear this from those trying to rationalize her feints to the right -- the thinking being that her triangulation is okay because, hey, she's already got the grassroots sewn up.

Here I disagree with her analysis, because even though I think Hillary will receive an aggressive challenge from someone on the left, I can’t see her losing the nomination on her left flank for a number of reasons. First, Bill Clinton is an asset that should not be minimized in the Democratic nominating process and I think he will single handily deliver an enormous portion of the African-American primary vote to Hillary. The far left “netroots” community may not back Hillary, but Hillary doesn’t need money or hype, the principal assets the “netroots” community brought Dean in 2004. She needs votes in places like Iowa and New Hampshire, South Carolina and Michigan, and I don’t know that lacking the backing of Molly Ivins, and websites like MyDD, Daily Kos or the Huffington Post is really that damaging to her candidacy. It’s actually probably an asset.

I agree that Hillary isn’t as much of a lock to win the nomination as she was a year ago, but I’ll stick to my analysis of last week that if she is truly going to be denied the nomination I have to believe it will be to someone like Mark Warner.  It's plausible Democrats could make a cold decision to move beyond the Clintons and nominate a candidate they feel has a better chance to win in November, but they won't pass over Hillary to nominate someone to her left who would be slaughtered in the fall of 2008.