Running the Right Race

If Hillary Clinton’s campaign is about nothing, she’ll lose, but it’s not going that way so far.

In this June 4, 2015 file photo, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks in Houston.

On the right road.

By June 12, 2015 | 3:30 p.m. EDT+ More—–USNews & World Report Blog

It’s David vs. David.

David Brooks writes in The New York Times that the Hillary Clinton campaign is making a big mistake not going after the middle, and thus expanding its reach, but instead concentrating on its base voters. David Plouffe, the Obama campaign manager in 2008, holds the opposite view: “If you run a campaign trying to appeal to 60 to 70 percent of the electorate, you’re not going to run a very compelling campaign for the voters you need.”

First of all, I am not entirely sure that this is an “either/or” proposition nor, is my guess, does the Clinton campaign think it is. Every election is about making sure your voters turn out, and to win in such a 50/50 political environment you have to persuade independents and undecided voters.

We will find out more tomorrow with Hillary Clinton’s announcement at Roosevelt Island. But let’s look at the arguments, the numbers and the candidate and see how this shakes out.

Despite all the polls right now and all the punditry 17 months out, every reasonable analyst would argue that voter turnout will be a key factor a year from November. In a polarized nation with highly sophisticated targeting and lists of each sides’ likely voters safely ensconced in modeling programs, not much is left to chance.

[SEE: Editorial Cartoons on Hillary Clinton]

The 2008 turnout set a modern day record, according to the data compiled by the Presidency Project at the University of California at Santa Barbara. More than 131 million voters turned out, which was over 58 percent of the voting age population, the highest percentage since the 18-year old vote came into play in 1972. The number of voters turning out actually dropped to 129 million in 2012, even though the voting age population increased by 10 million.

Clearly, the real question is who will be voting and who won’t and in what swing states with key electoral votes will this have an effect. The number crunchers from each party are putting that data together in as sophisticated a way as they possibly can right now. And they are figuring out what they need to do to maximize their turnout in those key states.

The days of Richard Nixon promising to visit every state in the course of the 1960 campaign are long gone. From Hillary Clinton’s perspective, she needs to make sure that she focuses on those voters she can get to the polls and those voters she can persuade in the course of the campaign.

Certainly, she will likely get in excess of 90 percent of the African-American vote, as well as more than 60 percent (and maybe closer to 70 percent) of the Hispanic vote. She will win the women’s vote and the youth vote. So the real question is 90 percent of what? And 70 percent of what? And will these voters be sufficiently motivated to go to the polls? If her message is mushy and middle of the road and doesn’t portray a future president who will fight for their interests, these voters will sit on their hands.

In addition, she does have a primary fight on her hands and the most compelling opponent is Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who will watch his numbers grow if Hillary Clinton isn’t appealing to progressives. Thus far, she has articulated a very strong and future-oriented platform that Democrats can rally behind. Bottom line, too, is that she is comfortable with this agenda and will push hard in the coming weeks laying out specifics on the issues she has identified.

[SEE: Editorial Cartoons on the 2016 Presidential Elections]

Contrary to the Brooks piece, she has also exhibited her pragmatic and working-across-the-aisle approach as a senator and as secretary of state. The notion that Clinton will only run a “base” campaign does not give her enough credit for her results-oriented approach over nearly 40 years in public life.

I do believe that the campaign understands the importance of running a strong primary race coupled with a general election campaign that mobilizes the large number of voters who are drawn to her candidacy. If the base is disaffected, she is in trouble, just as if many Americans who are undecided believe she is neglecting their interests and move away from her.

If this is a Seinfeld campaign – “the campaign about nothing” – Hillary will lose not just the base but the middle as well. But she is on the road toward a strong, clear, progressive race. My guess is that that the announcement tomorrow will lay that out very well and so will her weekly speeches during the summer on key issues.