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Hillary, Continued

A poli-sci prof talks about what comes next


Simon Sheppard, a College of Arts and Sciences visiting assistant professor of political science.

On Tuesday night, shortly after 10 p.m., Senator Barack Obama announced to a crowd of 20,000 in St. Paul, Minn., “Because of you, I can stand here and say that I will be the Democratic nominee for president of the United States.” Obama had clinched the nomination earlier in the evening through new endorsements by superdelegates and pledged delegates secured through the final primaries in South Dakota (which Clinton carried) and in Montana, which he won.

Meanwhile, in New York City, Senator Hillary Clinton was not ready to concede. “This has been a long campaign, and I will make no decisions tonight,” she told supporters.

Comments on the Clinton blog urged her to take the fight to the Democratic Party Convention in August or to run as a third party candidate, although many pundits believed she’s hoping for the vice presidential slot on an Obama ticket. But last night, Clinton’s chief strategists ended all the speculation by announcing that she would suspend her campaign and endorse Obama this weekend.

For some perspective, we turned to Simon Sheppard, a College of Arts and Sciences visiting assistant professor of political science and author of several books on history, politics, and the media, including The Partisan Press: A History of Media Bias in the United States, published in 2007.

BU Today: Hillary Clinton’s odds have seemed long for several weeks, but she continued not just to campaign, but to argue that she’s the more viable candidate in a general election even after Obama clinched the nomination. Why did she choose to leave the race at this point, rather than earlier or later?
Where there’s life there’s hope. Clinton may have hoped a succession of substantial victories in the late-season primaries and caucuses, coupled with some devastating campaign gaffe by, and/or personal revelation about, Obama might have swung enough superdelegates to win her the nomination. Also, having reinvented herself as the scrappy underdog after losing her front-runner status, she had to keep fighting the good fight or risk looking like a quitter by conceding prematurely. Finally, by staying in the race until the question of the seating of the Michigan and Florida delegations was settled on terms at least partially to her satisfaction, she can now bow out, having, according to her interpretation, achieved the moral victory of besting Obama in the popular vote.

The timing of Clinton’s announcement aside, what would you say was the real moment that her campaign lost this fight?
In retrospect, the three critical phases of the campaign were 1) Obama’s breakthrough in Iowa, which gave his insurgent campaign momentum; 2) February 5’s Super Tuesday, when Obama won 14 primaries and caucuses to Clinton’s 8 and shaded her in delegates won, proving he could go toe-to-toe with the establishment candidate; 3) the 11-day period from February 9 to 19 when Obama won 11 straight primaries and caucuses, cementing his position as front-runner and giving him enough of a buffer in pledged delegates to withstand Clinton’s late-season comeback.

What are the chances for the so-called Obama-Clinton dream ticket for the general election?
The most expeditious means by which Obama could reconcile Clinton’s supporters to his nomination would be by offering the vice-presidential slot to Hillary Clinton herself. However, he would have to seriously weigh the cost-benefit ratio of this strategy to assess whether he gains more in terms of party unity than he loses by compromising his appeal as the candidate bringing change to politics-as-usual in Washington. Obama must be aware the same equation applies in reverse should he consider a wild-card choice for vice president (e.g., Senator Jim Webb of Virginia or Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico). An alternate strategy might be to reach out to the Clinton camp by recruiting Clinton loyalists such as Senator Evan Bayh for vice president and former general Wesley Clark for secretary of state. Another approach would be to mollify feminists by picking a female running mate but one in his corner —perhaps Governor Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas or Janet Napolitano of Arizona.

Do you think the Democrats’ chances in November were harmed by the drawn-out nomination fight?
There is no doubt the protracted contest for the nomination exposed a number of potentially damaging revelations about Obama, most notably his relationship with Jeremiah Wright. However, in the long term it may be in Obama’s interests that these came to light relatively early in the year and not as a last-minute surprise in the general election campaign. The most worrisome aspect for Obama must be that the drawn-out struggle with Clinton has seriously poisoned relations between the partisans of the respective camps. The mutual recriminations will add to the challenges Obama faces as he seeks to unify the Democratic Party behind his candidacy for the fall campaign.

How hard do you anticipate it will be for Obama to win over the Clinton supporters by November?
Clinton’s core demographic constituencies were women, Hispanics, Catholics, and senior voters; Obama will have to make outreach to these groups a priority of his general election campaign. In terms of geography, his lack of appeal in Appalachia was repeatedly exposed throughout the nomination contest, contributing to a number of embarrassingly lopsided primary defeats in some states (West Virginia, Kentucky, etc.) that are now effectively a lock for McCain in November, and others (Ohio, Pennsylvania) where Obama must be competitive if he is to construct an Electoral College majority.

How will Obama’s upset victory impact the campaigns of future presidential hopefuls?
Obama is the first insurgent candidate on the Democratic side to win the nomination since the superdelegates were imposed on the nomination process with the specific intent of enhancing the prospects of the establishment candidate in each election cycle (e.g., Walter Mondale over Gary Hart in 1984). Howard Dean’s outsider campaign in 2004 established the template for how the system could be challenged; Obama is his natural successor in that his campaign effectively combined both an encyclopedic understanding of the minutiae of the party rules with sources of funding and activism from outside the party channels, enabling it to rise above traditional expectations about how the game is supposed to be played. In the final analysis, Clinton’s defeat can be ascribed to a poor choice of theme —running as the candidate of experience in an anti-incumbent year — and complacency in terms of its strategy — failing to anticipate the depth of Obama’s appeal and grassroots organization in the states electing their delegates by caucus.

Chris Berdik can be reached at cberdik@bu.edu.


6 Comments on Hillary, Continued

  • Anonymous on 06.05.2008 at 7:42 am

    Things change, people

    Things change,
    people think,
    at the end of the day it all is about beliefs,
    With all my respect to Senator Obama I do not believe that he will be able to win the presidential election against Senator McCain.
    The result of upcoming election will be decided not by registered democrats or republicans, but by people who have not said yet their word, who even did not think yet of coming to the election booth. But when the time comes those people will step up voting not for someone’s ideas, but against the person they would not like to have as a president.
    With a ballot in a hand most people will be choosing between a white man and a black man, for many on an unconscious level with making “reasonable” excuses, but this is how psychology works. The case “a man against a women” would be more favorite for democrats.
    Even the case “a women President and a black Vice President” would be stronger then a case “a black President and a women Vice President”.
    Soon we all see who are right, pink idealists or seasoned realists.

  • Anonymous on 06.05.2008 at 9:30 am


    i feel like you’re trying to pass off a certain skewed pessimism as a form of objective realism.

    sure, racism exists. sure, it will probably play a role in deciding who the next president will be. but i think its entirely unrealistic to believe that race-preference will play so overwhelmingly a role in the election that it will supersede issues such as healthcare or the economy or even national security

    from another perspective, if you believe that the american people vote overwhelmingly on the basis of color, reverse the colors. give mccain all of his political and economic beliefs, the fact that he is a sort of libertarian candidate running in the republican party, but make him black. make obama white but give him the same beliefs. do you think race will play that big of a role then?

    maybe you can make the argument that obama’s and mccain’s race define their beliefs but one has to only look at the spectrum of black and white conservatives and liberals to find that argument a bit weak

    really, like you said, it comes down to beliefs. but i don’t think all, or even most of those beliefs are race-related.

  • Nenad Bozinovic on 06.05.2008 at 10:45 am

    Ask yourself do you want things to change?

    For me it is a fact: World needs the change and cannot afford to wait. It is not an issue of white vs black or man vs women, it is a matter of do you believe in change. Look yourself in the mirror and ask you that question. I know that people who have voted for Obama are white, black, women and men, who believe in the idea he represents: don’t trust lobbyists, believe in peace, believe in alternative energies. McCain doesn’t and never will represent idea of change. Obama will not tell you how the change ends but he can show you how it starts. As JFK said: “I don’t know if the the world will be the better place in a year, or 10 years or 1000 years, but lets start working on in”.

  • Anonymous on 06.05.2008 at 11:37 am

    Independent Hillary

    If Obama doesn’t choose Hillary for VP, what about Hillary running as an Independent? The only way I vote Republican is if Hillary is on the ticket.

  • Prof John on 06.05.2008 at 12:50 pm

    Sound Analysis, Race, and more

    Professor Sheppard’s analysis was as measured and sound as any I have seen. He was gentle in his assessments of what went wrong for Sen. Clinton. As a former “Washington insider” I learned over a decade ago that one of her failings is that, for all of her gifts, whatever those may be, she has a political tin ear. That was yet again on display Tuesday night, when, with classic narcissistic egotism rampant, she intended to keep together her “18-million strong army” and keep her options open. What she just did not hear, nor calculate properly, was first, the deep anger of members of Congress over her tactic and what she was doing to the party and their careers by keeping them “on the hook.” Angry conference calls ensued. Second, by the day, those 18 million, whom she does NOT “own,” will fade away and go elsewhere. Likely, 20% of her faithful will remain with her. That’s 3.6 million, and they could affect the electoral vote. Depends on where they live. If mostlly, the adoring faithful are in MA or CA, they are impotent. Obama is a lock in both places, no matter what they do.
    But most of all, as every poll has underscored for months, and as political realism has long taught us, the target in all elections is the “independent voters.” Yes, some are racists and those who wrote about that, above, are correct. Write them off. Importantly, Hillary is and always has been what the Economist called (a year and more ago) a “polarizing personality.” Among independents, this shows: 75% vote for Obama if he wins the nomination, that same number (though different people) vote for McCain if she wins it. She angers people to the tune of nearly 45% of the total electorate. And if she had won, she would have roused and activated the Republican base, a percentage of which is disgusted with the party and where it has gone and with this presumptive nominee (McCain). ALL of this points to why Obama was the wiser choice. As for running a woman and a minority on the same ticket? Just how much “new” can the generally moderate to conservative electorate take at once? Not that much. Like it or not, and angry though it may make those who worship and adore Senator Clinton, having her on the ticket is the way to disaster. NOT a dream ticket at all.

  • KR on 06.12.2008 at 12:08 pm

    If we voted based on issues...

    … and if we did not rely on the lackluster MSM coverage, we’d end up with two viable candidates duking it out in the Democratic primaries and one candidate easily capturing the Republican ticket. Of course, I’m talking about Kucinich, Gravel, and Ron Paul respectively.

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