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Hillary's chinks exposed

Off Road Politics connects Washington with Main Street hosted by Salena Zito and Lara Brown PhD. Exclusive radio show on @TribLIVE

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Sunday, Jan. 7, 2007

Of all the provocative thoughts about a Barack Obama presidential candidacy, the one no one talks about is how Obama has exposed -- earlier and more vividly than anyone thought possible -- the weakness of Hillary Clinton as a candidate.

Obama has demonstrated in just a few weeks the desire of Democrats to find an alternative to Clinton.

Former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, who abruptly dropped out of presidential contention right before the midterm elections, enjoyed that real estate for a while. Now, Obama has basically taken whatever Warner had and doubled, tripled, even quadrupled it, in terms of enthusiasm.

Here is the nickel tour of the problems for Hillary.

Everybody knows who she is and that her last name is Clinton. That's her strength. But when you break it down, there are four very distinguishable chunks of the Democrat electorate that any candidate must win to secure the nomination; in no particular order, they are minorities, over-the-top anti-war folks, labor unions and women.

Interestingly enough, a funny thing happens to Hillary with women -- particularly women who are educated, affluent and consider themselves strong role models. Many think this whole turn-the-other-cheek-and-be-humiliated-by-Bill in order to have the opportunity to run for the U.S. Senate was a sell-out.

Such women hold strong loyalty to the Democratic Party second only perhaps to blacks and Hispanics. They are the base of the Democratic Party -- and suburban women are well aware that the last several presidential elections were decided in their backyards.

But what bites the most for Hillary is the war in Iraq. If Obama stays in the race, he has no previous vote for the war to explain or apologize for.

Then, too, the black community is Obama's to lose. Blacks will be inspired by and proud of an Obama candidacy.

Right there, Obama creates problems for Hillary with two of those four crucial chunks -- minorities and anti-war activists -- of the Democrat electorate.

If Obama opts out of the presidential race, that opens up the anti-Hillary role and provides an opportunity for someone like John Edwards to fill the void.

Edwards' strategy so far has been to stake out all of the unions, pointing out that free trade has shipped American jobs overseas. He follows quickly by a reminder that it was Bill and Hillary who came up with the Free Trade Agreement. That potentially gives him a crucial portion of the labor vote, the fourth essential chunk of the Democrat base.

Looking at the early poll numbers in Iowa and New Hampshire, it is difficult to argue that Hillary is the presumptive front-runner because the race is bunched up.

Consider that the Democrat primary electorate is vehemently against the war -- vehemently . Then consider that trade unions are passionately anti-free trade. Finally, look at how these other-than-Hillary candidates have staked out the anti-war and protectionist positions in the primary, and she has a problem.

Right now, even Democrats who make the political trains run and who think Hillary is an incredibly smart, talented senator are afraid she cannot win. Many of these king-makers think the stakes are too high to take a chance on someone who cannot win, because it would be too polarizing too far into the future.

Make no mistake: A clear-cut anti-Hillary space unmistakably exists in the Democratic Party. And it is significant.

For now, the credit goes to Barack Obama for exposing that sizable political real estate.

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