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Throw the Books at Her

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The books will nevertheless refocus attention on the polarizing elements of Clinton’s life, the things that underlie her stubbornly high negative ratings and that her policy-heavy campaign is designed to neutralize. They are being published now to piggyback publicity for the next Democratic presidential debate, on June 3 in Manchester, New Hampshire. Yes, we’re still a long way from the primaries, and yes, people with real lives are not obsessing over 2008. Yet Clinton has a great deal of work to do in bonding with the voters of Iowa and New Hampshire, the traditional and still crucial first states to cast ballots. Iowa is the rare state where Clinton runs third in polls, behind John Edwards and Obama, and she’ll be shaking hands and gee-whizzing over livestock there all summer. And despite the royalist caricature, she has class advantages over Obama, the putative populist. “His support is really concentrated among elite Democrats—wealthier, more-educated Democrats, the same kind of people that supported Gary Hart and Paul Tsongas and Bill Bradley,” says Mark Mellman, a Democratic consultant not affiliated with any of the current candidates. “There’s time for him to expand his reach. But downscale Democrats are still the majority of the party, and so far, Hillary has been successful in capturing their support, because of her history of being involved with issues that matter to them, like health care or education.”

Clinton’s poll numbers are stronger in New Hampshire, but her weaknesses are the same. “People here place a lot of emphasis on ‘authentic,’” says a senior New Hampshire Democrat. “There’s a sense that she’s too much the politician, willing to say anything or do anything as opposed to saying, ‘This is who I am, this is what I believe.’”

That is why the details of the two new Hillographies will be less important than the bind they highlight. Clinton is no longer running to become one of 100. This time she wants to be the one. As much as the presidency has been demystified and deglamorized, the job still holds an emotional resonance for tens of millions of voters. They want to connect before they pull the lever. Clinton succeeded in humanizing herself in New York, but the task is tougher in a national campaign. She understands the problem, and lately has been showing a sense of humor in Website videos. As much as Hillary Clinton would love to stick to the issues, this race was always going to be about her.

E-mail: chris_smith@nymag.com.


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