THE BLOG
09/15/2014 01:07 pm ET Updated Sep 15, 2014

Can Hillary Break the Clintons' Iowa Jinx?

Hillary and Bill Clinton made a ballyhooed trip to Iowa over the weekend to discuss world affairs and help fete retiring Senator Tom Harkin ... Oh, who's kidding whom? Their visit to the 37th and final annual Harkin Steak Fry in Des Moines, Hillary's first trip to Iowa in years, is the opening movie for her campaign in the first-in-the-nation Iowa Democratic presidential caucuses. And the question for the former first lady, senator, and secretary of state is whether the third time will be the charm in busting the Clintons' Iowa jinx.


Appearing with her husband, the former president, 2016 presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton turned in a good set piece performance before political elites and connected activists in her Iowa return over the weekend. But rougher waters may lie ahead.

In 2008, as you'll recall, the overwhelming frontrunner finished third in Iowa behind Barack Obama and John Edwards. She ended up just a weekend of furious Bill Clinton campaigning in New Hampshire away from being stampeded from the race at its very beginning.

In 1992, with Harkin running as a combo Iowa favorite son and would-be national progressive champion, Bill Clinton finished fourth in Iowa with a dismal 2 percent. Which helped set him up for a loss the following week in New Hampshire. Fortunately for him, he had his media-anointed frontrunner's status, a supportive press, and superlative campaign skills to pull him through a dogfight with Jerry Brown and Paul Tsongas.

In 2016, Hillary may not have that support press that found her husband so charming and intriguing as a "New Democrat." New Democrats are old hat now, and more than a little suspect within the party. And Hillary doesn't have her husband's people skills or combat skills.

Can Hillary be taken down in Iowa, even though she has a big lead there now? Sure.

In 1984, I helped then little-known Gary Hart -- who as George McGovern's campaign manager gave the Clintons their first positions in national politics -- score a surprise second in Iowa, as discussed here. He was fifth when I got to Iowa four weeks before the election and went on to take 26 states, nearly stealing the nomination away from overwhelming frontrunner Walter Mondale. Had the Internet existed then, Hart's financial challenges would have been solved by the wave of enthusiasm over his candidacy.

A lot can happen in a relatively short period of time in presidential politics.

Of course, it's a truism in politics that you can't beat somebody with nobody. Not that Joe Biden is nobody. But he's so well known and such an obvious candidate as vice president that he may already have been discounted when measured against his fellow Obama administration alum.

The rest of the potential field are, well, sort of nobody. Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren is a favorite of progressive cognoscenti and activists, but is not well known and has no experience at this level of politics. She's also said she's not running. Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley is eager and organizing. There are some others. You get the picture.

This would actually be a perfect set-up for Jerry Brown, now cruising (57-36 lead in the new USC/LA Times poll) to a landslide re-election for his record fourth term as California's turnaround governor. If he were 10 years younger. And if he didn't have a lot to do in Term 4.

So it goes.

But there is another truism in politics, a field rife with many cliches, telling and otherwise. And that is that some candidates provide their own undoing. If Hillary were not a woman, and if it wasn't for damn sure well past time for the U.S. to have had a female president, I would say that she is an accident waiting to happen in Iowa, no matter who else is or is not running.

Iowa in presidential terms mostly a pro-trade/anti-interventionist state. The first part is, generally, good for the globalist Clintons. (With a caveat: Fair trade concerns now crowd traditional free trade concerns.)

The second part of that equation is not good for Hillary.

For Hillary has gone from McGovernite peacenik to McCainiac war hawk. (Or at least a Democratic facsimile thereof.) The number of conflicts and confrontations she has urged -- from the disastrous invasion of Iraq on -- is stunning even to this decided opponent of reflexive anti-interventionism. It's not so much a question of which emerging situation she wants to intervene in as it is a question of where she does not want to intervene. Hillary's campaign will provide plenty of time to discuss all this in depth.

Couple this with two other factors which emerged during her recent book tour -- her seeming viscerally out of touch with most Americans' economic concerns and a penchant to say the wrong thing -- and Hillary herself could provide great impetus to a challenger campaign.

Or she could make some adjustments and avoid supplying oxygen to a fire which could consume her candidacy.

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