Debate, Biden, Benghazi: Hillary’s very good month

     Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is shown speaking during the Democratic presidential debate in October in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

    Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is shown speaking during the Democratic presidential debate in October in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

    When you have to spend three years running for president — hey, it’s the uniquely American way — you’re bound to have ups and downs. John Kerry was down in the fall of ’03 before he soared in ’04. John McCain plummeted in the summer of ’07 before he peaked in ’08. A candidate’s fortunes can seemingly turn on a dime with a fortuitous combination of luck and timing.

    That’s the deal right now with Hillary Clinton. She’s having a very good month. If nothing else, it speaks to her resilience.

    Today, she’s paying a visit to the latest Republican clown-car confection, the “Special” Committee to Drive Down Hillary’s Poll Numbers. She is lucky to have such hapless enemies. Two Republican lawmakers (including the House majority leader) and a Republican investigator (since fired by the committee) have outed the panel as a Hillary-centric witch-hunt. Indeed, this is the seventh House Republican panel to probe Benghazi; the previous six nailed Hillary with nothing – most notably the House Intelligence Committee, which concluded after a two-year probe that there was “no evidence” of Obama administration mendacity.

    And speaking of hapless, we have “Special” chairman Trey Gowdy. He recently attacked Hillary for putting the name of a CIA source in an email — and then he named the source in public. Then it turned out that the virulently partisan Stop Hillary PAC — which last week sponsored a TV ad that linked Hillary to the four dead Americans in Benghazi — is run by a guy who donates money and resources to Gowdy. As if we’re at all surprised.

    Anyway, that’s today’s Washington roundelay. I’m highly confident that the proceedings will firm up the determination of Hillary haters not to vote for her in November ’16. Nobody else will care a whit.

    Far more important, for her long-term prospects, is Joe Biden’s decision to skip the race. As I’ve been writing since early August, a Biden bid never made sense anyway. He would’ve been fighting Hillary for the same Democratic voters (people of color, working-class whites) without having a scintilla of the money or organizational ballast that she’d assiduously amassed. He’d run twice before, and failed badly, and a third quest would’ve split the party and sowed much bitterness. (Which is why Republicans were goading him to run; last week, the hilariously and terminally wrong Bill Kristol stated as fact that Joe was jumping in.)

    In Biden’s Rose Garden announcement yesterday, he said he couldn’t launch a successful bid because he was “out of time.” But this race began as soon as President Obama took his second oath of office. If Biden had truly been determined to indulge his lifelong ambition, he could’ve made the time. He did not.

    Hillary did. Biden’s inaction virtually guaranteed that he’d lose the all-important invisible primary, the pre-voting phase when candidates dun the donors, collect endorsements, and seed the grassroots. While Biden remained idle, Hillary did all three.

    And last week’s debate was the clincher — particularly when Bernie Sanders took her “damn emails” off the table. We need only look at the post-debate polls. Among Democratic primary voters, Hillary actually cemented her lead. On the same day that Biden said no, the ABC News-Washington Post poll put Hillary at 54 percent, with Biden a distant third, 38 points behind.

    With Biden out, her path to the nomination has been clarified. Bernie is likely to keep his slice of the Democratic electorate (young progressives, upscale northeastern liberals), and that should keep him competitive at least in the early primaries (his slice is strong in Iowa and New Hampshire). But he’ll have a tough time when the race shifts to the southern states (most notably, crucial South Carolina) where the electorate is heavily minority. That’s a Hillary strength, especially with Biden on the sidelines.

    And when the race moves to the big diverse states (including Pennsylvania), she’ll likely garner the working-class whites who strongly favored her over Obama back in ’08. Plus Democratic women, who will be favorably inclined for reasons I need not explain.

    But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. This long slog will provide more peaks and valleys. Nothing bores the press more than tepid competition; its only recourse is microscopic scrutiny of the frontrunner, and this particular frontrunner doesn’t have her husband’s Teflon. Indeed, ex-Obama adviser David Alexrod said yesterday, “She never handles prosperity well. What she shouldn’t do is retreat into a zone of comfort here, of reticence and caution.”

    She’ll probably retreat — Headlines: “Is Hillary In Trouble?” — until luck and timing strike again.

    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1, and on Facebook.

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