Clermont County's Chamber of Commerce recently invited me to moderate a discussion about Ohio's role in the 2008 Presidential election. The speakers were State Representative Chris Redfern, chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party, and his colleague in the state house Kevin DeWine, deputy chair of the Ohio Republican Party.
At one point I asked if Ohio had shifted ideologically, given the election of Democrats for Governor, U.S. senator and many local posts. Who could have imagined five years ago that the Hamilton County Commission would be dominated by Democrats? Surprisingly to some, Redfern, the Democratic Party Chair, said, no, he believed the Buckeye State remains essentially "center to right of center" and that this was reflected in many of the policies pushed by state Democrats. I then asked if he believed Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are center to right of center. Redfern conceded that Obama was not but insisted that Clinton was, at least on economic issues. This brought guffaws from Republicans and a retort from DeWine. But the exchange raised an interesting point.
Redfern was visiting the lion's den, red-blooded Clermont County. Any Democrat who hopes to win a substantial number of votes there has to meet Republicans at least half-way. Senator Clinton's original plan was to travel that distance on a national scale. For instance, long before the Iraq invasion and long after, Hillary Clinton was one of the staunchest and most eloquent supporters of regime change (as President Clinton also had been, spurred by the forcing out of weapons inspectors in 1998). When the war began going badly and it became clear that anti-war Democrats would be driving the party, Senator Clinton was forced to surrender a position that would have played well in the general election but not in the primaries. She then claimed that her vote authorizing the use of force was really just a vote for weapons inspections.
What's important to remember, particularly given the success of the troop surge, is that Senator Clinton's original, more bellicose position may yet be useful if she wins the nomination. Indeed, contrary to Obama, Clinton continues to say, quietly, that some troops may need to remain in Iraq for quite a long time, if only to allow an orderly withdrawal.
Similarly when it comes to economics, Senator Clinton would love to become the triangulator that her husband was. Yet there's a problem. While Bill Clinton ran in 1992 as a Southern moderate, with few exceptions (such as his support for NAFTA, which his wife now repudiates) he did not govern as a moderate until Republicans took over Congress in 1994 - following Clinton's retroactive and enormous tax increase and Hillary Clinton's disastrous attempt to nationalize health care.
In 2009 the Democrats will probably control Congress once again. Would a President Hillary Clinton, backed by a Democratic Congress, govern from the "center to right of center"? Representative Redfern says yes. But Republicans might not be laughing.