Hillary's Looming Electability Crisis

02/01/2008 07:10 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

There are moments in time when you see a slow-motion disaster unfolding before you, and you can only yell out and hope those around you notice in time. Now is such a moment for Democrats, and "in time" means before the Super Duper primaries this Tuesday across the nation. Hillary Clinton may be a good U.S. Senator, and has deep symbolic importance as our first viable female presidential candidate, but three factors represent crippling structural flaws for the Democratic ticket this November if she becomes our candidate.

First is the nightmare we saw once before. Ralph Nader has just declared his decision to form an exploratory committee for 2008, and will certainly wage another presidential campaign hammering the Democrats. Under ordinary circumstances, Nader's inevitable next candidacy would be unimportant given his meteoric fall from electoral relevance. Thanks to voter resentment over his impact in 2000, and to efforts including our "Ralph Don't Run" campaign by anti-Bush progressives opposing Nader's candidacy, his vote total fell from an election-tilting 3% in 2000 to 0.38% in 2004. As we said in 2004, Nader's votes always come at the expense of the Democratic candidate. While Nader was not a factor in 2004, Hillary's weakness among progressives -- millions will never forgive her vote authorizing the Iraq war -- means that Nader will crawl back up into the low single-digits. We saw in 2000 the carnage "low single-digits" can cause.

Second, after his victory in Florida and endorsement by Giuliani, John McCain is the presumptive GOP nominee. McCain's greatest appeal will be to independent voters, a large vital block of the electorate that is Hillary's great weakness. Hillary is a highly polarizing candidate, which damages her among independents. As Time magazine's most recent polling indicates, she has the deadly combination of very high negatives (41% unfavorable) plus a deeply fixed voter impression (91% say they know enough about her to form an opinion). The latter figure means those numbers are not going to change substantially, and McCain will almost surely win Independents. This should be a deafening alarm bell for Democrats.

Finally, Hillary has an ironic power shared by no other candidate: from the wreckage of a broken, dysfunctional Republican party with deep rifts among its factions, she would create sudden GOP unity. If Clinton is our candidate, the Republican base will come out in numbers that have nothing to do with John McCain and everything to do with Hillary and Bill Clinton. As GOP pundits are now openly admitting, they want Hillary this November. They fear Obama.

Here, then, is the Clinton disaster scenario. Even in a year when Democrats are in great position to win in November, if Hillary unifies the Republicans, loses independents, and loses the progressive left, her chances of winning the general election are slim indeed.

Let look at the alternative. Barack Obama inspires Americans across the political spectrum, with his greatest strengths supplanting Hillary's greatest weaknesses. He unites independents, the young, minorities, and progressives alike. He will not unify the GOP, and indeed will take Republican votes. That same Time magazine poll shows that among those who have an opinion, he has astounding 70% positives. Yet 51% of voters don't yet know him enough to even have formed an opinion. With his power of ideas and remarkable personal charisma yet to be fully seen, his upside is enormous.

In 2004, we had our regrets about having to fight the often admirable Ralph Nader to most effectively oppose the reelection of George Bush. We beseech Democratic primary voters this Tuesday to make such an effort unnecessary in 2008, as Barack Obama unites progressives, independents and Democrats, and discourages rather than unifies Republicans. If we want to win in November, we must choose the transcendent appeal of Barack Obama, as Americans reject tired partisan divides of the past and join together in a new politics of integrity, hope, and a profound unity for the American people.

John Pearce and Kathy Cramer were founders and Directors of Ralph Don't Run, a progressive citizens' campaign opposed to Ralph Nader's candidacy in 2004.