Barack Obama campaigned in 2008 on changing America. It helped a economic crisis had erupted under a Republican President. But Obama’s policy ideas and oratory helped create the idea that he would change things in DC.
By contrast, Obama’s primary challenger, Hillary Clinton, campaigned on being a steady hand to right the economy and tough enough to confront terrorism. So did Republican John McCain. Of course Clinton lost. Minorities and liberal, single women and Millennials flocked to Obama.
This go-round, Clinton initially changed her strategy. Fearing a liberal insurgency, she tacked to the Left to steal the thunder of Bernie Sanders. By and large it has worked and in turn her campaign has returned to their 2008 theme; slow and steady.
This strategy would mark a significant departure from Obama. Clinton is not promising to shake things up or being a transformational President. It’s true she has shifted to the left on certain issues (Immigration Reform, Cuba, Climate Change, TPP, etc.) but this was always expected.
What is more notable is the Clinton campaign seems resigned to the fact they are unlikely to assemble the electoral coalitions of Obama circa 2008 and 2012. This reflects a reality of a post-Obama Presidency.
The largest generation in America, Millennials, are unlikely to fall in love with another candidate like they did Obama. They have become just as disillusioned with the system as every other voting cohort. The Clinton camp knows they can target certain segments of this voting bloc, college educated women and minorities, but they are unlikely to come out in force for a 70 year old political woman.
Such a fact can be gleaned from watching the Democratic debate the Saturday before Christmas in New Hampshire. During an exchange over providing paid maternal leave for all employees (minus men of course), Clinton attacked Sanders plan to pay for it by creating a new payroll tax. Clinton’s plan was to tax the rich or make employers pay for it. Bernies plan was for equal in everybody paying for it.
Clinton’s argument against the idea was based on protecting the middle class. She must have looked at electoral results from the past three elections. In the last 2 midterms and in 2012 Democrats lost every income group except those earning less than $50,000. More notably, turnout among low income groups dropped significantly among the midterm electorates.
Clinton’s campaign has cash and a data targeting operation that rivals Obama. But, unlike Obama, they do not have a candidate that their base can rally around. Clinton’s background is the definition of privilege and does not fit well with the narrative of grievance based politics.
Thus, the Clinton campaign knows it has to do better with middle and upper income voters. To this end, promoting a steady and smooth agenda that promotes stability and change over time is a way to appeal to these voters. Unlike voters in the lower income strata, middle and upper income voters have things to protect and they tend to not support candidates they consider radical or fringe.
Ultimately, the Clinton campaign is trying to forge their own electoral coalition. It’s a coalition that reflects the political realities of a post-Obama Democratic Party and attempts to meld the party’s grievance base voting blocs with the more moderate, businesscentric wing of the party together