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Radnor Geopolitical Report


Washington, June 2007

 

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Strategic geopolitical intelligence for decision-makers

 

 

 

 

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2008: Who is Hillary?

by Ken Feltman

Probably my worst quality is that I get very passionate about what I think is right.

- Hillary Clinton

Two new books about Hillary and Bill Clinton have caused conservatives to hope that the revelations will derail Hillary Clinton's presidential plans. Forget it. The books will cause Clinton some discomfort but they will not derail her campaign.

The women's vote

A recent poll shows why. Clinton has a commanding lead among Democratic women. Slightly over half of all Democratic women surveyed by ABC News and the Washington Post support Clinton, 24 percent support Senator Barack Obama and 11 percent support former Senator John Edwards.

The Obama camp and the news media have assumed that African American women will back Obama. Initially, they did. But as they examined what Obama was saying and how he was saying it, they backed away. If we dig into the research, we learn why: Obama engenders especially strong support from well educated, upper income voters, men as well as women, black and white. He does poorly among disadvantaged and minority women - the voters who are the bedrock of the Democratic presidential nominating process.

An example of this dichotomy came in the most recent televised debate when Obama attacked Edwards about support for the Iraq war. In post-debate analysis, the commentators - all well educated and high income - commended Obama for his skillful incision. But the rank-and-file Democrats watching at home were uncomfortable with the attack. They want Democrats to attack Republicans, not other Democrats. Obama lost ground even as the commentators applauded.

Refocused but not defined

Clinton understands this and has refocused her message (and occasionally her accent) to appeal to a more rank-and-file Democratic constituency. As transparent as her strategy may be, it is working. Can Obama regain the initial burst of support he received from African American women? Have too many core Democratic voters decided that Obama does not speak to them - but Clinton does?

Edwards hammers away at his populist themes but cannot gain traction nationally. He has proved that he can be effective when he devotes himself to personal, handshaking campaigning. That explains his lead in Iowa and his strength in New Hampshire. He practically lives in Iowa and his poll results there show it. Clinton's biggest mistake may have been to underestimate the amount of time she would need to devote to Iowa. Edwards' one chance at the nomination is to win big in Iowa and to vault into contention as many other states go to the polls in February. That strategy requires that Edwards pull off quite a long shot.

Nonetheless, he would appear to have a better chance of pulling off that long shot than Obama has of regaining traction. Obama may soon realize that his best hope is to be selected as vice president.

Who is Hillary Clinton?

So exactly who is this calculating woman described in the new books? She seems so cold-blooded, so determined to achieve her goal that she will let nothing stop her. Is that who she is?

I first met Hillary Rodham Clinton in 1980 when my wife and I were assigned to the Arkansas delegation's hotel at the Democratic National Convention in New York. That fortuitous assignment allowed me to meet many of the people who would play important roles in the Clinton campaign and administration. The Arkansans were welcoming and inclusive. They invited us into their meetings and social functions. They made us feel at home, right down to giving us Razorback hog hats. You have probably seen them - red, distinctive and so ugly as to be beautiful - a fixture at University of Arkansas football and basketball games.

After the recent presidential debates, Radnor's Decision-Maker focus groups picked up an interesting change: participants now may see the Democratic candidates as soft on terrorism and terrorists. If that attitude hardens, the whole equation of the election could change. Could the Republican nominee have a chance?

Amidst all the talent and all the egos in that Arkansas group, one person tried to stay in the background. Still, after a few days, I realized that she was the choreographer keeping her ebullient husband under some degree of control while she stood in the back of the room with the slight frown that she still wears. Most in the Arkansas delegation were there having a good time. Hillary was there on a mission. From afar, she seemed calculating. Up close, she was interested and interesting. We came from the same Chicago suburban congressional district. We talked local politics and Chicago Cubs baseball. She can draw a person in more subtly but just as effectively as her husband's big hugs.

When the Clintons came to Washington in 1993, I nominated her for membership in the Cubs society, which was (and remains) less about the Cubs and more about political contacts. She joined and did a great job as keynote speaker at an annual luncheon, with dozens of media representatives and powerful Republicans ready to criticize. She wowed 'em every bit as much as former Cubs hero Ernie Banks.

Then she ran for Senate in New York and announced that she was a Yankees fan. Many Cubs fans called her a turncoat. A Chicago TV station asked me if I felt she had betrayed Cubs fans. No, I said, if there is one thing Chicagoans, including Cubs fans, understand even better than baseball, it is politics. A day later I got a thank you: Hillary at her witty, warm and sincere best. But that Hillary does not come through to people who do not get close to her. If Hillary herself does not give voters a glimpse of her warmer side, she will remain vulnerable to attacks such as those found in the recent books. Will the attacks cripple her?

Cynic's feast

The two new books tell us perhaps more than we want to know about who Hillary Clinton was. But they do not tell us who she might be if she becomes president. The books are a cynic's feast. But they contain no fresh revelations. They summarized, in convenient volumes, the history of a marriage of convenience and a wife's cover-up of her husband's philandering. This whole thing is tawdry but this is politics. Politics is a blood sport in the United States. Tawdry is routine.

The message is clear: Hillary had known about Bill's serial affairs and had actually aided her husband's adulterous behavior. In fact, she supervised a team of pressuring lawyers who got several of the women to sign false statements that they had not been involved with Bill. Is this such salacious stuff that Senator Clinton will drop out? No. People have known this for years.

One long-time reader called to comment on my April 1992 article in which I predicted that Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton would get the Democratic nomination and defeat incumbent President George H. W. Bush to win the presidency. At the time, Clinton was battling what one of his close aides called a 'bimbo eruption,' which dogged him throughout the campaign and then throughout his presidency. If that was not enough, reporters were showing growing interest in the Clintons' financial dealings, especially regarding what came to be called Whitewater.

Kill the messenger

The premise of that 1992 article was that any other presidential candidate who faced the scandals that Bill Clinton faced at that point in the campaign would drop out. The fact that he had not dropped out indicated to me that he was either unusually obtuse in analyzing his situation or knew that the best defense was a good offense.

Hillary Clinton led that withering offense and mobilized what became the trademarked Clinton response to criticism: attack hard and kill the messenger. The two books paint a picture of a woman who is easy to loathe. But drive her out? No way.

If we look back, we realize how things have changed! Six months before the 1992 election, the Democratic Party's presidential nominating process was still up in the air. Today, 18 months out, some candidates have entered and already abandoned the campaign. Things proceeded more slowly in April of 1992 when Radnor asked one of our political contacts in the Southwest to 'mosey around Little Rock and other parts of Arkansas to see what you can learn.' His 31-page report was chock full of things that people denied at the time but that turned out to be true as other investigations, often years later, verified what we sent to subscribers.

Does Thompson have staying power?

As former Senator Fred Thompson enters the Republican race, look for Mitt Romney to benefit temporarily as Thompson takes support from Rudy Giuliani and John McCain.

True, conventional wisdom indicates that the conservative Thompson should take votes from the conservative Romney, but that may not happen initially. The conservative dissatisfaction is with frontrunners Giuliani and McCain. Thompson will get votes first from them. Then, if he has staying power, he will grind down Romney's support.

Thompson's candidacy makes it harder for Newt Gingrich to enter the race later. Gingrich may have waited too long. He has to hope Thompson stumbles and the Republican primary voters still want a conservative. That could happen if Thompson does not get off to a fast start.

The public will not give Thompson much time to make his case because he is entering late. Gingrich, while not officially in the race, has been making his case for months while being coy about running.

For example, we learned that the land that came to be known as Whitewater was originally controlled by International Paper Company, which denied ownership after we reported it. Later, when the Wall Street Journal reported it, International Paper agreed that they not only had owned it, but had regained ownership of part of the land when the Whitewater scheme went belly up. They and the White House continued to deny that the Clintons and their partners, Jim and Susan McDougal, got a sweetheart deal. Reporters kept pounding away, as this question from a 1994 White House press briefing shows:

REPORTER: 'Is there any connection of [sic] the loan to the Clintons from International Paper and the subsequent granting by Governor Clinton of timber rights to International Paper?' (New York Times, January 13, 1994.)

A little Draconian magic

One thing about the development never really made much news, probably because it involved a land contract, a purchase technique that is little used because it can have such a Draconian effect. A land contract is an agreement between the buyer and a private seller in which the seller holds the title or deed to the property until all payments have been made in full. It seems that many of the people who made down payments on lots in Whitewater never intended to continue making payments. Nothing had to be recorded. When buyers stopped making payments, Whitewater kept the money and the title to the property.

Why was this particular method used? Political fundraisers in Arkansas contacted lobbyists, businessmen and others with an interest in the Clintons' rising political fortunes. Was a land contract an interesting way to raise money for the Clintons with very little in the way of a paper trail? Whatever it was, it seemed to be the kind of sharp practice that dogged the Clintons throughout their Arkansas and White House days and that has now resulted in more anti-Hillary Clinton books.

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We proved that Hillary's fabulous success in commodities trading - she almost always bought at the daily low price and sold out at the daily high - could not have happened. Her trading manager's reports to commodities exchanges show that, for most days, none of his clients could have been the lowest buyer or highest seller. Why he recorded those extraordinary purchases and sales to Hillary is a mystery - unless you figure it was a scheme to make Hillary quite a bit of money and gain some favor with Bill Clinton.

Our investigator even found the very table in the very bar that Hillary frequently shared with Vince Foster, who later became the White House lawyer charged with staving off investigations of Arkansas-based scandals. He died an apparent suicide and his office was cleaned out by people close to Hillary despite police orders to padlock Foster's office. Several important files known to be in his possession were never located.

Love her, hate her, define her

For most voters, that is in the past and if Hillary-haters believe it will keep her from the nomination, they need to think again. Most voters have little interest in digging into the past, whether it is Whitewater, Travelgate, the failure of healthcare reform or Bill Clinton's behavior. The nomination, and perhaps the election, will not revolve around ancient Arkansas land deals or recycled accounts of Bill Clinton?s womanizing. No negative book will be a silver bullet.

The Hillary Clinton I know is not the Hillary Clinton I read about. Does it matter which Hillary Clinton might become president? Amazingly, after Hillary Clinton's long time in the public eye, and even when most voters think they know who she is, she still needs to define herself. Her Democratic opponents seem unable to define her negatively. But the Republicans will. They will say, look, we had all that unsavory stuff for eight years and Hillary Clinton was in the middle of it all. Do we want that again?

That argument may be the Republicans' best weapon. But will it work or will moderate women join the Clinton bandwagon in such numbers that Hillary Clinton becomes inevitable? No one knows. I do know one important thing: if the going gets really tough for Hillary, she has another advantage.

Hillary Clinton is a fierce and relentless fighter. She salvaged her husband's political career on more than one occasion. Will she do less for herself?

The Clintons and their friends have not even started to play rough.





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