Hillary Clinton could use her huge popularity in America to help rescue the beleaguered president. Or to make a last bid for the top job herselfby Diane Roberts / December 15, 2010 / Leave a comment
Published in January 2011 issue of Prospect Magazine
On the afternoon of 3rd November, as the scale of the Democrats’ losses in the midterm elections became clear, President Barack Obama appeared before the television cameras, eyes downcast, lips pursed, chin puckered under the tension of his frown. At the same time, Hillary Clinton, his Secretary of State, was nearly 10,000 miles away in Papua New Guinea. She greeted women’s rights activists and planted a mango tree before flying off to negotiate with the defence ministers of New Zealand and Australia, scoring another diplomatic success. Despite the recent furore over WikiLeaks putting purloined State Department documents online, Clinton has had the best year of her professional life.
In early December, Hillary Clinton told reporters that Secretary of State will be “my last public position.” She said she would most likely become an advocate for women and children. When asked if she had any intention of running for president she said, “No, I do not.” But politicians have been known to change their minds. Political strategists across America are still asking two questions. Might Clinton destroy Obama by challenging him in 2012, in pursuit of her one-time dream of becoming the first female US president? Or will she rescue him from his troubles by becoming his vice-president, or by working to transfer to him the reputation she has earned?
Hillary Clinton is one of the most recognisable political faces in the world. Polls show that she is one of the most popular politicians in the US—far more popular than her boss. She appeals to discontented voters in the centre who long for the prosperous (if scandal-ridden) days of her husband’s presidency. After an election in which women were more prominent than they have been for decades, led by Sarah Palin and the “Mama Grizzlies” of the Tea Party, Clinton’s gender may also finally be as much of an asset as a handicap.
Nearly 60 per cent of women voted for Obama in the 2008 presidential election. Yet in the recent midterms, just over half of women who voted backed a Republican candidate for Congress or a state governorship. Obama’s strategists wonder if Clinton could bring these women back to the Democratic fold. Anne Kornblut, author of Notes from the Cracked Ceiling: Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin and What It Will Take for a Woman to Win, points out that, in the 2010 election, Democratic women stayed home, but argues that Clinton could prove pivotal in 2012. “She could restore a connection with women voters. Her visibility helps. People take her seriously.”