The Sorrow and the Pity
One lost, the other won in New Hampshire. But going forward, both Mitt Romney and Hillary Clinton have similar doubts to dispel.
Although he now stresses a 50 state strategy, Romney's initial game plan was to win Iowa and New Hampshire and ride Big Mo into states (and national polls) where he had been lagging. That strategy is now kaput.
More importantly, Romney is now trying to do something he probably should have done initially: position himself as a Washington outsider with first-class management experience in the private sector and state government, who has the ability to affect -- yes, that word we hear constantly now -- change. Instead, Romney tried cornering the conservative base, doing an end run around Giuliani and McCain.
But too many voters seem to doubt Romney's conversion on such issues as abortion, gay marriage and immigration. This, I think, is the result of conservatives having been burned by President Bush (on spending and immigration) and by Republicans in Congress (on just about everything -- look at the approval numbers). Romney has not gotten the benefit of the doubt traditionally accorded Republican front-runners. Instead, social conservatives found a soul mate in Mike Huckabee. And those for whom national security is a paramount concern may be turning to McCain, who was an early proponent of the surge, or Giuliani.
McCain has belatedly pledged to secure the borders before once again pushing a comprehensive immigration bill. Giuliani makes no apology for being pro-choice but promises to appoint strict constructionist justices who may (or may not) overturn Roe v. Wade and return the issue to the states. Both have been more straightforward than Romney, who continues to insist that he abandoned his support for abortion rights due to anguish over embryonic stem cell research, a position many pro-lifers find implausible.
Doubts, for some, about Senator Clinton run even deeper. She mounted a spectacular comeback in New Hampshire -- far more impressive than the 1992 second place finish against Paul Tsongas that made Bill Clinton the Comeback Kid. And Hillary Clinton impressively won support from union members and lower-income voters -- staples of the traditional Democrat coalition.
But what put her over the top was support from women, especially women who told pollsters they made up their minds at virtually the last minute, following Clinton's near-tearful "display of emotion" while discussing the pressures of the campaign. New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, among others, accuses Clinton of reinforcing negative stereotypes about women by portraying herself as a victim. And indeed, a survey of Hillary Clinton's favorable ratings -- going back to 1992 and the Gennifer Flowers allegations, through Paula Jones and Monica Lewinsky -- suggests that Clinton does best when she seems most vulnerable. The low-point of her popularity was her most notable attempt to make policy, the 1993 health care fiasco that was largely responsible for Democrats losing Congress.
Clinton complains of a sexist double standard regarding emotion. But Ed Muskie was roundly abused for crying during a campaign. And Presidents Reagan and Bush senior may have cried, but they weren't crying for themselves. Perhaps more important, women like Margaret Thatcher and Golda Meir worked their way up the political ladder on their own and seldom if ever played the personal sympathy card.
Now that both parties' races are shaken up, both Romney and Clinton will have time to dispel these doubts. The question is, can they?