Dan Janison has been a reporter at Newsday since 1997.
Now Hillary Clinton’s road to the Democratic presidential nomination appears to morph from an open freeway to an obstacle course.
Suddenly her battles against Sen. Bernie Sanders in Nevada and South Carolina count.
Remarkably, it was less than a year ago that the sharpest of pundits saw the party facing an extraordinarily noncompetitive contest.
Some even dared fret that such an easy ride to the nomination could hamper her in the general election.
She’d be out of the spotlight, they said. Republicans could focus energy and resources early on slamming her, they said. Democrats would miss out on policy debates, they said.
Clearly such “worries” are gone.
Still, her decisive loss in New Hampshire to Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, could — just maybe — become part of a winning narrative for Clinton in the weird world of perceptions.
People love recovery stories. Nearly a quarter century ago, Bill Clinton became the “comeback kid.” Maybe his spouse now strives to earn the name — even if she’s a grandmother.
“Let’s throw some reality into this,” said Robert Zimmerman, a Democratic National Committee member from Nassau County and a Clinton supporter. “Bill Clinton and Barack Obama went on to win the nomination, and the presidency, without winning New Hampshire.
“The point here is that Hillary Clinton, when you move to states that represent the face of the Democratic Party and the face of America, she’s winning very substantially,” Zimmerman said.
“This is going to be a competition, but there is no question Hillary Clinton is in the best position to win the nomination based on her background and message.”
If you really wish to downplay the most recent phase of the horse race, consider the chaos currently sown in Republican circles by Donald Trump and his first-place finish. GOP analysts too are asking themselves how much Iowa and New Hampshire meant.
Political spin works in funny ways. If Clinton wins the nomination, even late in the game, she could market herself to the perceived center of the general electorate as the “moderate” Democrat who beat back the less “pragmatic,” and therefore weaker, Sanders. That is, even if, for the moment, she must try to usurp at least some of Sanders’ youthful political base.
Even some fans in New York knock Clinton’s campaigning skills. Said a well-known female New York Democrat who backs the ex-senator: “There’s a difference between a good candidate and a good elected official. She’s not a good candidate. The problem is, good candidates often become bad elected officials. It’s really a problem.”
But it is not for nothing that Clinton has allies and donors for which Sanders chides her. The trick for her spin-meisters may be to flip “establishment” credentials into “underdog” credentials to fit the mood of the moment.
For his part, Zimmerman added: “Any presidential campaign that can’t sustain losing a couple of primary states has no business competing.
“We may need some group therapy when this is over, but Republicans will need anger-management therapy when this is over.”