Simon Carswell: Hillary Clinton all but handed the Democratic nomination
Without Biden in the race polls show Clinton’s support rising to a whopping 64 per cent
“Refraining from partaking in the petty squabbling among the committee, she appeared statesman-like, presidential even.”Photograph: Somodevilla/Getty Images
Two events in as many days have, to all intents and purposes, handed Hillary Clinton the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.
The decision of Vice-President Joe Biden on Wednesday not to run and the former secretary of state’s unflappable performance a day later before a congressional panel investigating the 2012 attacks on the United States compound in Benghazi, Libya, have cemented her frontrunner status.
The insurgent campaign of socialist senator Bernie Sanders and his populist fight for the middle class may warm the liberal masses angry at the establishment for failing to correct the imbalance between the rich and everyone else, but the Vermont independent will struggle to sell his “democratic socialism” beyond a hardcore of progressive Democrats on the left.
Biden and Clinton were always going to be fishing in the same pool of the party’s moderate, mostly older and white voters. They were from the same administration and would, had Biden entered the race, been running on the same record, occupying the same centre-left ground.
It would have been the vice-president’s third presidential bid so it was hard to see how he could have offered an electrifying alternative given his disastrous 1988 campaign and his lacklustre showing in 2008.
Flanked by President Obama, Biden said in the White House Rose Garden that the time to mount a realistic campaign had passed. With just 100 days to the Iowa caucuses – the first nominating ballots – the moment had passed some time earlier, particularly in light of the Clinton machine created by the permanent campaign run on her behalf for the past three years.
The former Delaware senator was never more than a safety-net candidate should Clinton have slipped further over her inexplicably cack-handed response to the controversy about using a private email while conducting official government business at the department of state.
Clinton’s assured performance in the first Democratic presidential debate 10 days ago should have scared Biden off then, particularly after Sanders handed her an unexpected lifeline by taking her “damn emails” off the Democratic debate stage as an issue that could hurt her.
Now that Biden’s invisible primary is over, the bulk of his mid-teen support will shift to Clinton. A Washington Post/ABC poll on Tuesday (before Biden’s announcement) showed a post-debate surge for Clinton to 54 per cent, 12 percentage points better than a month earlier. Sanders, in contrast, slipped one point to 23 per cent. Without Biden in the race, the poll showed Clinton’s support rising to a whopping 64 per cent, compared with just 25 per cent for Sanders.
Just as the voters will migrate, so too will the money. More than four in every five donors who contributed at least $200 to President Obama’s re-election campaign four years ago had not contributed to any candidate as of September 30th, according to the independent political research company, Crowdpac. com.
This amounts to a large pool of additional cash that Clinton should now be able to tap to blitz the early nominating states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina with crucial advertising while promoting herself nationally to prepare for the bigger fight against the eventual Republican nominee.
On Thursday Clinton enjoyed another fillip, courtesy of the Republican circus that is the House of Representatives Select Committee on Benghazi, the $4.5 million investigation that is now running longer than the Watergate investigations into Richard Nixon.
Clinton didn’t just survive a gruelling 10 hours of testimony before the committee, a Republican monster created to feed oxygen to a prairie fire of conspiracy theories out there – she thrived. She sat calmly, sometimes resting her chin on her hand, watching the committee’s Democratic and Republican members bicker over the clearly evident partisan forces driving this 17-month investigation.
It turns out that the Republican majority leader of the House of Representatives Kevin McCarthy did commit the mortal sin of politics: he told the truth when he let slip for a Fox News television audience last month that the Benghazi committee was set up by his party.
His party colleagues attacked Clinton like an ill-prepared prosecutor trying a case that should never have been taken.
This is the ninth congressional or official investigation into Benghazi. The committee’s seven Republicans failed to locate a smoking gun showing that Clinton or the Obama administration covered up wrongdoing in their handling of security at the compound or in their response to the attacks as many Republicans claim.
Without losing her composure, Clinton ran circles around the committee, exposing the political motivations of the Republicans. Refraining from partaking in the petty squabbling among the committee, she appeared statesman-like, presidential even. The combative Trey Gowdy, the Republican chairman, couldn’t even say after the marathon session whether the committee had unearthed anything new, adding that he would have to look at transcripts of previous testimony.
“I don’t know that she testified that much different today than she has in the past,” he conceded to reporters afterwards.
For Republicans, a perfect opportunity to damage a formidable adversary in the heat of an election campaign has passed. The monthly drip-feed of emails from the department of state may open other opportunities but, in her Democratic race, the emails are a non-issue.
For Clinton, the summer was a disaster; October has been golden. The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee is back and heading into the electorally critical winter months with a strong wind at her back.
Simon Carswell is Washington Correspondent