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David Herdson on the great Hillary #WH2016 guessing game

February 2nd, 2013

Would this be a contest too far or success at last?

After twenty years at or near the centre of US political life, and four years of Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton can now finally put her feet up and enjoy retirement. Or she can start seriously planning the presidential campaign everyone’s expecting for 2016. Take your pick.

In the short term, the two probably amount to much the same thing. After a genuine break, she can spend much of the next two years giving speeches and lectures, writing another book – perhaps the second part of an anticipated trilogy of autobiographies – and making enough TV appearances to remind people that she’s still there, while rationing them sufficiently to make each one count.

    As the front-runner and establishment candidate she has the luxury for the time being that most of her rivals are reported to be waiting to see whether she’ll run before deciding on whether to commit to their own campaign.

    If so, they may be making a mistake; Obama is where he is now because he didn’t wait his turn.

Indeed, the first Clinton won the White House in no small part because he jumped while others hesitated (including the father of potential 2016 runner Andrew Cuomo). Even if they were to run and lose, a decent campaign would put them up the batting order for 2020.

When a presidential doesn’t seek re-election, the usual form is for the vice-president to pick up their party’s nomination – Nixon, Humphrey, George HW Bush and Gore all did – but that sequence was broken when Dick Cheney chose not to. Biden, like Cheney, was chosen to add experience to the ticket and though he’s hinted that he might run in 2016, it can’t be ignored that he’d be 74 at the end of Obama’s term. There have been septuagenarian presidential candidates but they’ve all been Republicans; most Democratic candidates in recent years have been in their forties or fifties.

Therein may lie one of Hillary’s biggest hurdles: she’ll be 69 by the election and have been a fixture at the top of the Democratic party for a quarter of a century. That might simply be too long for too many. After all, the baton has already passed to the next generation once. Not only other candidates but also activists and the general public may feel that her time has been and gone.

If that is the case, there has to be someone else to fill the gap. Assuming Biden isn’t that person, who then? That’s certainly where the value will lie. The aforementioned Cuomo and Gov Martin O’Malley are, for example, 25/1 to win the White House and 12/1 for the Democratic nomination with Ladbrokes and there would probably have been some value with both there had they not signed same-sex marriage legislation as governors. That is the sort of record on which it becomes difficult to build a national campaign.

Perhaps the Democrats might be willing to risk such a candidate in some circumstances – after all, Obama has twice won without needing the Bible belt – but why chance it when there’s a quality safety-first option. If she’ll run. The upshot of which is that there’s probably little value on the Blue side of the equation and for once, it’s the Republicans who might throw up a candidate from out of the ordinary. But that’s another article for another day.

David Herdson