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Earl Ofari Hutchinson Headshot

Why Rove Likes Hillary

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Karl Rove got one thing right. He predicted that Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic presidential standard bearer in 2008. The badly tainted and tarnished former Bush White House political guru touts Clinton for a reason. He thinks that she is ripe for the pickings for whichever Republican emerges from the presidential pack. Rove banks that though some conservative Republicans jumped Bush's ship in the 2006 midterm elections and voted for Democrats, many would almost certainly jump back to the Republicans in 2008 with Hillary as candidate. That would make it virtually impossible for the Democrats to pry the crucial one, let alone, two states away from the Southern Republican bloc.

The potential Democratic loss of that big a swath of electoral votes going in the presidential election door can be dumped squarely on the deep and resonant hate Bill residue that still tarnishes her. That hatred was driven by the GOP's distaste for a Democrat in the White House savvy enough to pilfer some of their core issues and give better voice to them than they did. When Hillary hit back and branded the hate Clinton's campaign a vast right wing conspiracy, the Hillary bashers jerked into paroxysms of rage. Though the impeachment drive against Bill eventually crashed and burned, her political activism marked her as someone capable of stepping out of Bill's shadow and carving out her own political path. This made her even more of an inviting target.

That hasn't changed in the years since she left the White House. In a well-publicized warning and taunt at a conservative confab in September 2006 just weeks before the 2006 mid-term elections, evangelical idol Jerry Falwell tarred Clinton with the devil image and refused to take it back when he got flack for it. A month after she announced her candidacy in 2007 polarization was still the watchword with Hillary. A Post-ABC poll found that those who liked her dead heated with those who didn't (49 to 48 percent). If the black and Latino respondents were taken out of the poll the dislike of her among whites would have been crushing.

Hillary has been nonplussed by the smear attacks. In March 2007 she again leveled the right wing conspiracy charge against the GOP. She accused them of jamming phones and of voter harassment and intimidation against the Democrats in the New Hampshire election in 2002.
The early polls in 2007 showed that in a one to one contest with former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani and Arizona Senator John McCain, Hillary trailed badly.

In one poll, a near majority of respondents gave her little chance to win against them. Only the two failed Democratic presidential candidates, Al Gore and John Kerry, and the long out of power, even more polarizing, Newt Gingrich got higher negatives as potential presidential candidates. That was more amazing since Gore and Kerry hadn't expressed the remotest thought of running and Gingrich made mostly empty noise about getting in the race.

In a straight up match with Rudy Giuliani, Gallup's Annual Minority Rights and Relations Survey in July 2007 had him edging her by a couple of percentage points. That only told a fragment of the story. Take away the Hispanic and black vote, and Giuliani destroyed her. Non-Hispanic whites, overwhelmingly, backed him.

Giuliani even noses her out among college educated Hispanics. Overall, he got nearly one-third of the Hispanic vote even though in one national poll in July 2007 only 11 percent of Hispanics self-identified as Republicans. He got that despite the fact that he took the hardest of hard line stances against the immigration reform bill in the Senate in May 2007 He went so far at one point and called the immigration bill a "typical Washington mess."

There are also mixed signals if whether being a woman will help more than hurt her even with women in a wide segment of America. In a Newsweek poll in July 2007, fewer voters said that they would vote for a woman candidate for president than a black candidate. Hillary did just as dismal when asked whether the country was ready for a female president. More said no to this question than said no for a black president.

Rove, though, licks his chops too soon at the prospect of a Hillary candidacy and subsequent Republican wipe out of her. While a new CNN poll shows that she has major likeability issues, the same poll also shows that voters like her for her strength and experience. Despite a ton of negatives, these are the qualities that ultimately powered Rove's boss back into the White House. These are also the same qualities that ultimately will prove fatal to Obama's candidacy. Though he scores high on the likeability scale, he's simply too new, too untested, and too inexperienced to win a head to head contest with Giuliani. But that's a moot point anyway; the Clinton machine renders him no chance to get the Democrat presidential nod.

Rove is right. Hillary is tough, tenacious and flawed -- but that flaw may not be enough to guarantee a GOP victory. Though Rove counts her out, the only one that can be counted out is Rove.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book The Latino Challenge to Black America: Towards a Conversation between African-Americans and Hispanics (Middle Passage Press and Hispanic Economics New York) in English and Spanish will be out in October