How Clinton finally bested Sanders

by Ivan Couronne Shortly after declaring her candidacy for the US presidency in April 2015, Hillary Clinton hit the road in a van to win the hearts of Democrats.

But what was initially expected to be a walk in the park towards the White House nomination became an epic battle of more than 420 days.

Her popularity rating plummeted, she revived long-dormant divisions within the American left and the former secretary of state revealed her weaknesses as a candidate.

Clinton is only an average public speaker — her skills do not match the soaring oratory of Barack Obama, the man she hopes to succeed, or the foot-stamping rhetoric of her rival Bernie Sanders and her presumptive Republican opponent in November, Donald Trump.

– New beginning –

April 12, 2015: After months of hollow suspense, Clinton launched her White House bid with a video and a tweet. She then hit the road in the so-called “Scooby van” to conquer Iowa.

The former Democratic senator from New York and first lady for much of the 1990s, Clinton was the uber-favorite out of the gate — she was the first in the race, but her campaign oozed humility.

No big rallies for Clinton — she instead spent two months listening to voters at round table discussions and small meetings, ostensibly to rebuild her ties with the American public after nearly eight years out of the political limelight.

For her second run at the presidency, Clinton recruited the best and brightest operatives, poaching members of Obama’s White House team.

Her young campaign manager, Robby Mook, set the tone early in an internal memo: “We are disciplined: driven every day by strategy, not tactics or one-offs” — an allusion to the rifts within her 2008 team.

– Benghazi and those emails… –

While the summer of 2015 was dominated by Trump’s improbable rise and the implosion of his rivals’ campaigns, Clinton published a detailed policy platform.

But she could not shake the controversy swirling around her use of a private email server during her time at the State Department rather than an official email account, despite federal guidelines to the contrary.

It was only in September that she said she was “sorry,” but that did not really stop the bleeding, or questions about her trustworthiness.

October 22, 2015: Clinton survives a marathon 11 hours of questioning about the 2012 militant attack on the US mission in the Libyan city of Benghazi that left the US ambassador and three other Americans dead.

Republican lawmakers pelted her with questions about the assault and her emails, but the 68-year-old Clinton remained calm — and proved her resilience.

Her performance reassured her backers, and her path had already been made clearer when Vice President Joe Biden opted not to enter the race.

But Sanders, an independent senator from Vermont who calls himself a democratic socialist, kept drawing big crowds — and started rising in the polls.

– Feel the Bern –

February 1, 2016: The political revolution promised by the 74-year-old Sanders and his repeated denunciation of what he says is America’s “rigged economy” gained traction in Iowa.

In the Midwestern state, the first step in the long nominations process, Clinton narrowly edged out Sanders, but about 80 percent of voters under the age of 25 chose him — a strong showing he would repeat across the nation.

Sanders quickly hit the Clinton “firewall” however — in the American South. In March, she swept the contests in southern states, where black voters turned out en masse to support her.

Two-thirds of Hispanics in Texas and Florida also voted for Clinton. March was a crucial month for the woman seeking to be America’s first female commander-in-chief, as she built what would prove to be an insurmountable delegate lead over Sanders.

– Never-ending primaries –

Nevertheless, Sanders would not go away. The avalanche of small donations he received allowed him to stay on the campaign trail. He notched up more wins, even taking Michigan despite poll data favoring Clinton.

And the tone of the campaign changed. The good-natured sparring of the early days vanished, and Sanders implied that Clinton was in the pocket of Wall Street and big business.

He slammed the millions she earned in speaking fees in 2013 and 2014 after leaving the State Department, notably to Wall Street audiences.

Clinton fought back, accusing the senator of being too soft on gun control and unprepared on certain policy issues.

Sanders’s never-say-die campaign highlighted Clinton’s vulnerability, with polls showing that more than half of Americans believe she is “dishonest.”

Trump repeatedly mocked her inability to put Sanders away.

In opinion polls, Sanders fares better than Clinton does in a head-to-head match-up with the billionaire real estate mogul.

That is the argument he has used, in vain, to try to persuade Democratic super-delegates — most of whom are in Clinton’s camp — to back him.

June 6: Those same super-delegates eventually pushed Clinton over the top, according to estimates from several US media outlets on the eve of the last “Super Tuesday” of primaries.

Clinton surpassed the magic number of delegates thanks to the party establishment that Sanders never stopped criticizing.

Now, she’ll need to muster her forces for the second long battle — the one that ends on election day on November 8.


© 1994-2016 Agence France-Presse


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