Clinton's popularity gives party an edge

Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders at a forum in South Carolina on Friday. According to the RealClearPolitics website, Ms Clinton has the support of 54.8 per cent of Democratic voters while Mr Sanders is backed by 3
Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders at a forum in South Carolina on Friday. According to the RealClearPolitics website, Ms Clinton has the support of 54.8 per cent of Democratic voters while Mr Sanders is backed by 32.5 per cent.PHOTO: REUTERS

For months, former United States secretary of state Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign moved along in fits and starts.

But today, consensus is building that she is going to be the inevitable nominee, and experts believe the clarity she provides should benefit the Democratic Party.

There are only three candidates remaining on the Democratic side - Mrs Clinton, Vermont senator Bernie Sanders and former Maryland governor Martin O'Malley.

The decision by US Vice-President Joe Biden not to join the race and Mrs Clinton's strong performances - both in the debate and during a Congress hearing on her handling of the deadly 2012 militant attack in Benghazi, Libya - have given her campaign momentum.

Associate Professor Lara Brown, programme director of the political management programme at George Washington University, said of Mrs Clinton: "She did not wither in either venue, at the debate or at the hearings. And with her performances, she reminded Democrats of why they liked her and why they believe she will be a formidable nominee."

According to political website RealClearPolitics, Mrs Clinton has the support of more than half the Democratic voters (54.8 per cent), while Mr Sanders has the support of 32.5 per cent. A mere 1.8 per cent are behind Mr O'Malley.

Some may point out that about a year before the 2008 election - the last time there was no incumbent running for the White House - Mrs Clinton was leading the pack but eventually lost the nomination to President Barack Obama.

But it is also worth noting that at the time, there were eight candidates and Mr Obama was able to pick up support along the way as candidates dropped out. Mr Sanders, however, has only Mr O'Malley behind him.

Said Professor Irwin Morris, chair of the department of government and politics at the University of Maryland: "It's still early and so anything can happen.

"If he (Mr Sanders) were to win a couple of early primaries and caucuses, he'd be right back in it. But it's a long shot."

Other experts feel that the first few primaries, while important to the Republicans, will have little or no impact on Democrats.

Said Georgetown University's Professor Stephen Wayne, an expert on the US presidency: "Even if Clinton loses New Hampshire and Iowa, it won't weed her out. She has too much support in terms of finances and backing."

In terms of fund-raising, Mrs Clinton is outperforming Mr Sanders by quite a margin. As of June this year, she had raised US$77.5 million (S$110.4 million) compared with Mr Sanders' US$41.5 million, according to data from the Federal Election Commission.

The benefit of having Mr Sanders in the race, say liberals, is how he has pulled Mrs Clinton to the left on certain issues. "She is more sensitive to issues of income inequality than she might otherwise have been," added Prof Wayne.

Mrs Clinton still needs to work on her likeability in the year ahead.

Said Prof Wayne: "She has to show, even more than before, the human dimension, that she can empathise with the average person."

While some experts suggest Mrs Clinton's lack of competition between now and the nomination may result in a less "tested" candidate than the Democrats would have hoped for, others believe the clarity this far ahead is a boon for Mrs Clinton as it keeps her in the media spotlight and eliminates the need for an expensive campaign to crush contenders.

On the party level, the Democrats also stand to gain. "The candidate can unify the party, stay consistent on policy and run a general election campaign during the primary stages. It's always advantageous," said Prof Wayne.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 08, 2015, with the headline 'Clinton's popularity gives party an edge'. Print Edition | Subscribe