Hillary Clinton faces a tough battle
by Naagesh Padmanaban on 07 Aug 2015 3 Comments

The 2016 presidential election is picking up heat. Literally. With twenty two candidates - seventeen on the side of the Grand Old Party and five Democrats - this may be the biggest number of presidential hopefuls seeking nomination ever.


Of the 22 candidates in the field so far, Hillary Clinton currently has the overall advantage.  The Clinton campaign has signed up more than 10,500 donors so far this year compared with 8,800 in the first half of last year.  Two prominent Indian-Americans - Maryland Democrat Mahinder Tak and New York technology investor Deven J Parekh - have joined the club of over 120 volunteers who have raised more than $100,000 for the Clinton campaign. Many other prominent Indian Americans have also made donations.


Does a big war chest guarantee Clinton the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination? What are the prospects of the country having a Clinton administration? With so many candidates – most of them well funded – a full war chest alone may not help in this 2016 election. Hillary Clinton has to overcome a host of non-funding related challenges before she can win the nomination and then the election.


The campaign so far has not exactly been a resounding success. Part of the problem has been the candidate herself. Firstly, as pointed out by some pundits “she is no Bill Clinton or Barak Obama” and her oratorical skills are not showing. This has not warmed the traditional Democratic support base.


A major campaign speech, billed as her economic policy speech, was a big letdown. In that speech Clinton avoided touching upon focus issues that America is battling - income inequality, rising urban poverty, banks “too big to fail” or any of the many key economic issues that need resolution to kick start the economy. Rather she focused on short term issues that led observers to call it “quarterly capitalism” – meaning it focused too much on short term initiatives and results.


The email scandal – using private email for official, including sensitive, State department communications – is not going away and continues to be used by Republicans to attack her. More dirt will certainly be dug out of the woodwork in coming days to potentially embarrass her.


Further, the Clinton campaign has so far evaded or ducked direct answers to key policy issues. The Keystone Pipeline - bringing oil from Canada to distribution centers in the US - is a case in point where Clinton repeatedly refused to provide a direct answer.


Americans love a presidential nominee who is seen as forthright and unequivocal on major issues, even if they disagree with that view. While not many Americans love or agree with Donald Trump, one key ingredient of his successful campaign so far has been his bluntness and unfussy views on key political issues. His controversial remarks on Mexican immigrants has not dented him so far and many argue that he has cleverly used this to his advantage to freeze the spotlight on him. Clinton has not been able to stop the Trump show.


A recent Gallup poll (7/24/2015) shows Clinton’s (favorable) rating has slipped to 43% from 48% in April. At the same time, Clinton’s unfavorable rating increased to 46%, tilting her image negative and producing her worst net favorable score since December 2007. This declining rating is a reflection of the larger issues of how Hillary Clinton is being perceived in the US. This could be the single largest issue she has to contend with to inject new life into an otherwise mediocre campaign.


The Democratic challenge to Clinton has been growing. Bernie Sanders, Democratic Senator from Vermont, has not been the pushover many thought he would be. He has steadily gained ground in the northeast. However, polls show that he is behind Hillary and may not pose a big challenge as yet. Also Americans at large are more familiar with Clinton than Sanders. That will surely help Clinton, but one cannot gainsay the fact that the latter has a committed left wing following in the country. For the present, the Clinton campaign seems content to make statements that are endearing to Sanders’ constituency and sway this support base towards her.


That said, there could still be surprises in the Democratic camp. Will more candidates jump in?  Recent polls have shown an uptick in Vice President Joe Biden’s popularity and there are reports that he is indeed considering a 2016 presidential run. A minor realignment in the Democratic camp in the near future cannot be ruled out. How far Biden and Sanders can influence the Democrats and win the nomination is anybody’s guess. But this certainly muddies the waters for Clinton, although not yet a grave threat.


That brings us the Republican challenge to Clinton. Right now, even for seasoned political observers, the field looks over crowded. With 17 hopefuls, it is going to be a bitter fight before posing a serious challenge to the Democrats. The Republican presidential debate next week is expected to provide more clarity and thin down the race. The sheer number of GOP hopefuls may favour the Clinton campaign.


Just a few weeks ago, the election pundits did not pay serious attention to Donald Trump, the controversial maverick and real estate moghul. But poll numbers have forced the Clinton team to revise their strategies. If Trump continues his run, he will pose a major threat to Clinton.


What are the potential consequences of a Hillary administration for India? India has always looked up to the US with awe and admiration and believed in the natural partnership by virtue of being democracies. This has met with limited success and reciprocity from the US. Contrary to popularly held belief in India, the Democrats have not been sympathetic to India. Bill Clinton imposed sanctions on India in 1998 after Pokhran II. By default, Republican administrations have been less punitive.


Given that Hillary Clinton’s camp has known Pakistan sympathisers, a renewed Indo-Pak hyphenation may be a distinct possibility in a Hillary administration, although the emerging Chinese threat may bring India and the US closer. WikiLeaks has reported that Hillary Clinton, as Secretary of State, was very keen to push India towards signing the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). This pressure may be renewed.


It is an open secret that Hillary Clinton, as Secretary of State, encouraged a host of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) into dubious roles in developing countries and India was no exception. While there is no certainty that the past will be repeated, there is no room to expect a dramatic positive shift in US-India relations under a Hillary Clinton administration either. Hillary Clinton may not be sympathetic to Narendra Modi a la Obama. In some sense, the Modi government in India should be prepared for a realignment of relations with a Clinton administration in the US.   

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