MEDIA
03/28/2008 02:44 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

"Hillary At The Top Of Her Game": The Frontrunner, Pulling Ahead

That was Newsweek's Howard Fineman on MSNBC this morning, analyzing Hillary Clinton's confdent, relaxed, impressive performance at this morning's Democratic Presidential Forum, in which she answered questions on a wide range of topics with authority and sparred good-naturedly with host Chris Matthews. ETP only caught the first three candidates — the others were John Edwards and Barack Obama, natch — but it seemed to us (admittedly unoriginally) that Hillary's frontrunner status was pretty well-established. (But don't take our word for it, take Fineman's: "That' s a front-runner who deserves to be the front-runner right now").

Today, Clinton solidified that status with yet another PR coup: The launch of her campaign song. In a move that even critics have to admit is pretty genius, Clinton & Co. executed a pitch-perfect Sopranos parody, complete with key family member Bill (happily in a supporting role),cameo from real-life Soprano Vince Curatola, who played mob boss Johnny Sack. It even had the tell-tale orange (carrots), for those who will inevitably pull it apart frame by frame, David Chase style, to divine the symbolism of the couple kissing in a booth or Bill's sky-blue shirt or whether the menacing Johnny Sack glowering at the Clintons represents a Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy about to be blotted out with black. (As Chase said, "Anybody who wants to watch it, it's all there").

As I wrote earlier in this space, the song contest was a savvy idea, engaging and inclusive and a great showcase for a likeable Hillary who could make — and take — a joke. And despite her choice of a song by Celine Dion — Canadian, true, but uncool nevertheless, and if you listen to it, not even as upbeat as Dion's Chrysler shill — the idea to launch the winner with that Sopranos spoof was a stroke of freakin' genius (though, ironically, the song it will get us all singing for yet another week is "Don't Stop &$#@#$^% Believin'"). Expect to see clips of it on all the cable nets; whether or not they like it or claim to hate it, they'll all play it.

So: that's Hillary's day — a pretty damn good one for any campaign, methinks. The polls are showing her pulling ahead of Obama in the double-digits, and, according to Howard Kurtz (and parroted on MSNBC this morn), the word most used to describe her lately is "inevitable." Meanwhile, this morning John Edwards seemed to sort of dance around questions of executive compensation and income disparity (that may be the result of a nefarious Republican meme, and it's not like any other candidates for office are exactly pikers, but still, the spectre of Edwards' high net worth looms large here); and meanwhile, Barack Obama, whose obvious oratorical gifts have been famously undermined by his lack of emotional affect, said "I'm tired of having women crying on my shoulder at town hall meetings because their sons are in Iraq" in the exact same tone in which he might discuss, say, immigration. Meanwhile Hillary, whose problem has always been being perceived as being cold and controlled and inauthentic, seems to have gotten that under control: She seems to be smiling more in her public appearances. She makes funny YouTube videos. She gets off smart, zingy laugh lines, reliably. ObamaGirl was funny, but who can remember the last time the actual Obama cracked a joke?

Then again, to be fair, who cares? This is a video — a great, smart, funny video — but it's not an apology for her Iraq war vote, and it's not a panacea for the deep divisiveness over Clinton in Democrat ranks (but thankfully, it's not Fred Thompson chomping on a stogie). It's meant to be light and fun, but it doesn't ultimately reveal how she'd be as president, nor is the fact that she's the frontrunner today — even a buzzy, viral-viddy one — predictive of anything six or ten or sixteen months down the road. And as a frontrunner, it's a lot harder to go up than it is to go down.

So at the end of the day, then, does this video matter? Yes, of course — everything matters, it all gets rolled into our impressions of Hillary (including our impressioins of what she thinks of being called "Hillary"). It shows that she has a sense of humor, it shows that she has a sense of fun, it shows that she has a sense of timing. It may not show much about her plan for withdrawl from Iraq or immigration or don't-ask-don't-tell, but that's what debates are for (and questions answered with a show of hands, natch). But what the video does say, loud and clear, is, damn, does Hillary Clinton ever know how to assemble a great team. All things considered, that's a pretty good trait for a president to have.

Related, in a way:
Richard Nixon, Bowling [Library of Virginia]