On the surface, yesterday’s Franklin Pierce/Boston Herald survey contained good news for Hillary Clinton. The Herald’s headline screamed, “Hillary Clinton holds ‘unprecedented’ lead in N.H.”
The top line numbers initially seem to support that conclusion. Clinton leads Warren — who really, really isn’t running — 47-22. Moreover, the paper reported that “A whopping 84 percent of likely Democratic primary voters in New Hampshire have favorable views of Clinton, while 68 percent say her use of a private email server while working at the State Department is ‘not that serious,’ the poll shows. Just 6 percent of voters call the email controversy a ‘very serious’ problem.”
Yet when you look deeper, you see that Clinton garnered 47 percent of likely NH Democratic primary voters — but potential opponents drew a combined 45 percent. This is the first poll that suggests that a strong alternative might have a real shot against the former Secretary of State.
Previous polls this year had Clinton beating the field 69-23, 56-31, and 58-32. Obviously, she won’t be facing the field on February 9, 2016, but if the anti-Hillary vote finds someone to coalesce around, this could prove to be an interesting race after all.
In 2008, Clinton finished with 39.1 percent of the New Hampshire primary vote, topping Barack Obama’s 36.5 percent. Her victory was anything but a sure thing in the days leading up to the vote.
For those that believe her 25-point lead today is “unprecedented,” it’s worth remembering that Hillary held a 23-point lead in polls by UNH/WMUR/CNN and Rasmussen as late as September 2007 — just four months prior to the primary.
Assuming Warren holds to her statement that she will not run and Vice President Joe Biden does nothing more than pay lip service to the possibility, that leaves a field without a clear Obama-esque character to challenge Hillary this time around. It would make Clinton’s path much easier, but not without the potential for potholes along the way.
Perhaps, then, 2000 is a better comparison. With about a year to go before the 2000 Democratic primary, Al Gore held a 20-point lead over Bill Bradley. Bradley was no Obama in his ability to spark voter enthusiasm, but he coalesced the anti-Gore vote as the field shrunk and ended up losing the Granite State by just four points (50-46).
Who could be the Bill Bradley of 2016 if Warren and Biden demur? Martin O’Malley seems the most likely choice, although he starts from a much weaker position than Bradley did in early 1999. His name ID is lower and his standing in the polls barely cracks 1 percent. But as a former governor with liberal appeal, he has the credentials to be competitive. Put simply: he has the highest ceiling of any of the rest of the potential field despite his dismal survey showings thus far.
Other Democratic possibilities like Bernie Sanders and Jim Webb don’t seem to have real potential to challenge Clinton. Sanders can garner enthusiastic support — but only from a relatively small segment of Democratic primary voters. There’s precisely zero chance that the Democratic party will nominate a self-described socialist. As for Webb? He’s the longest of long shots and hasn’t even bothered to appear in New Hampshire yet this year. Hardly a recipe for success. And although Andrew Cuomo shows up in most of the polls, he seems much less likely to run than his late father ever was.
If Warren doesn’t run herself, she could lend instant credibility to one of Hillary’s competitors, should she choose to be so bold. O’Malley seems to understand this, and he did a nice job of praising the Massachusetts senator during his New Hampshire visit this week.
For her part, Warren has been anything but enthusiastic about Hillary Clinton. Just yesterday Warren said of the former Secretary of State, “I think we need to give her a chance to decide if she’s going to run and to lay out what she wants to run on.” It’s hard get much more lukewarm than that.
If he’s going to make a credible run, however, O’Malley will need to be prepared to take a sharper tack with his rhetoric. For a brief moment last weekend, it appeared that he would be willing to do so when he told George Stephanopoulos that the presidency was “not some crown to be passed between two families.” However, on his visit to the Granite State this week he refused to continue to press the attack, according to multiple reports.
Clinton supporters should feel good that she’s got a strong lead in the polls, but the fact that she has fallen to the point that here numbers are roughly equal to the rest of the combined field suggests that the confidence should be tempered. And for those who desire an alternative Democratic nominee, there should be some optimism in these latest numbers.
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