Fanning the Hillary-Can't-Win Myth

05/25/2011 12:15 pm ET

Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama is the latest to fan the myth that if Hillary Clinton bags the Democratic nomination she'll drag the Dems down to a flaming defeat in the general election. Obama can be forgiven for fanning the myth. He's way behind in his dog fight with her for the nomination. Clinton's run neck and neck with him among black voters, trounces him with Latino voters, has got a bottomless campaign war chest, and the virtual imprimatur of the top cat Democratic Party regulars. Almost certainly barring a monumental bumble she will top him in Iowa, New Hampshire, and probably South Carolina. Obama banks that Hillary bashing will strike a chord with the avowed Hillary haters and doubters -- and give him a bump up in the race.

But Obama can also be forgiven for fanning the Hillary can't win myth for another reason. The myth has grown to near urban myth proportions, and Obama has bought into it. The myth goes like this. The hatred of Hillary and Bill by the gaggle of Republican hatchet men, hard line Christian fundamentalists and legions of veterans in the Bible-thumping, flag-waving south and the Midwest is near clinical. She'll drag more heavy negative baggage into the campaign than any other candidate. That ultimately will seal her doom. The myth got an arm shot when Clinton's former Hollywood pals and bank rollers jumped ship and called her "polarizing" and Christian fundamentalist leader Jerry Falwell saber-rattled her a couple years ago as the devil incarnate. The 2005 CNN poll that found more voters said they were "more likely" to cast a vote against Hillary than "more likely" to cast a vote for her, and a few early polls showed her getting creamed by Rudy Giuliani in a head to head match etched the myth in stone.

With Hillary as the Democratic presidential standard bearer, supposedly the Democrats will be 170 electoral votes in the hole before the first vote is cast. That's the number of votes that the Democrats can kiss good-bye in the South and several border states with the anti-Hillary backlash.

Bush, as all Republican presidents since Nixon, either swept or got a near sweep of the South.

The problem with this pat scenario is that it's all based solely on innuendo, speculation, and a healthy dose of hate Hillary hope and prayer. But forgotten is that Bill Clinton won four Southern states, twice, and that black and Latino voters make up a significant percent of the vote in North Carolina, Florida, and possibly Georgia. That puts those states in play this election.

Clinton's prime nemesis, the Christian fundamentalists are fragmented, disillusioned with the Republican sex and corruption scandals, and the GOP's flop in delivering on their morals agenda. The one man that could galvanize the anti- Hillary flock, and that's Falwell, is among the dearly departed. No one with his stature and name identification has come remotely close to replacing him. The top gun Republican contenders carry nearly as much baggage as Hillary. Giuliani's personal life is the stuff of endless gossip and jabs at him for being soft on morals issues are relentless. Mitt Romney's Mormon religion doesn't set well with a big swath of voters. Fred Thompson's Johnny come lately entrance in the race, and muddle of the issues, tags him as a political work in progress.

Meanwhile Obama and John Edwards pound Clinton for deal making, flip flops, ducks and dodges, and vagueness on the issues, and for fudging on her Iraq war record vote. The criticism has some validity. The same knock could be made at one time or another against Obama, Edwards and Bill Richardson. But that's not enough to bump any of them up a percentage point on her. That's because American voters for better, but mostly worse, are conditioned to expect politicians to duck, waffle, and doubletalk on the issues and cut deals. In the screwy and topsy turvy early stage of the presidential campaign that's par for the course, and expected.

In the general election, Hillary won't have that luxury. The glare will be even more intense, and voters will expect her to answer their question on where she stands on the issues. That's where the experience factor is crucial. The same polls that show her floundering in popularity and likeability also show that a crushing majority of voters give her high marks on experience. She's simply been there and been there longer than the other Democrats. Voters are in no mood for on the job training once in the White House. They got burned once with a certain president, and that's not likely again.

Now there are the polls. They do show Clinton with high negatives. But her far higher popularity and favorability numbers among Democratic voters trumps that. This translates into big voter turnouts on Election Day. While a solid number of black voters will root their lungs out for Obama, if Hillary gets the nomination they will root just as hard for her, and that includes Obama as well as Richardson, and Edwards.

This pretty much renders Obama's Hillary-can't-win myth just that -- a myth. But like all myths, especially self-serving ones, expect it to be endlessly recycled.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is The Latino Challenge to Black America: Towards a Conversation between African-Americans and Hispanics (Middle Passage Press).