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Hillary in '08: Can She Or Can't She?

Too bad the Atlanta Journal Constitution has such a cumbersome registration process, because this article from Scott Shephard probing the question of Hillary's "electability" is worth reading in full. Shephard pulls together a number of quotes expressing skepticism that Mrs. Clinton can get the job done:

- Marist pollster Lee Miringoff: "there's some concern in the party about her electability, especially in the red states."

- GOP pollster Frank Luntz: "As in 2004, Democrats want to win. Unlike 2004, they really want to win. No candidate will secure the nomination who they fear will lose to the Republican nominee."

- Carol Huxel, a New Hampshire Democrat: "people in Kansas are not going to vote for Hillary, no matter what. And the Democratic Party's leaders aren't realistic if they think they can run Hillary."

After giving a quick rundown of the three red-state Dems competing for the title of "most electable" (former Virginia Governor Mark Warner, Indiana Senator Evan Bayh, and Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack), Shephard concludes with this:

Warner, Vilsack and Bayh are all polling in single digits so far, however. And while the next presidential election is still more than two years off, it's going to take somebody with double digits to become the non-Hillary candidate, said Chris Lehane, a senior aide to Gore during the 2000 campaign.

"Hillary is as strong as any non-incumbent candidate in modern history on the Democratic side, where she will have the three M's for a successful campaign -- money, mass support from the critical constituency groups and a message," said Lehane. Ironically, "for someone to become a true challenger [to Hillary Clinton], they must become an insurgent and run from the far left of the party."

Ignoring the silly remark about candidates needing double digits at this point in the race to be competitive, Lehane is saying Hillary is electable and that the opening will be on her left rather than her right. But if, as Luntz and other suggest, Dems are first and foremost concerned about winning, then it doesn't necessarily make sense that the party will coalesce around a retread who has moved to the left (like Al Gore or John Kerry) or a purebred progressive like Russ Feingold who, no matter how much the base may love him, is never going to be more than a long shot to win a general election.

I think Luntz has it right. My experience talking to active Democrats is that most are much more ideologically in tune with someone like Feingold, but they have no problem supporting someone like Warner or Bayh because winning the White House is their top concern. The problem for Hillary is that she's going to be a big fat target (metaphorically speaking) sitting right in the middle, getting challenged from the left and the right. At the moment her name recognition is a tremendous asset, but the more the race gets underway it will be a liability because she's such a known quantity and impressions of her are so hardened in the mind of the public, it's going to be impossible for her to overcome the knock that she's too polarizing to be electable.