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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

‘Experience’ Card Favors Second-Tier

Michael Kinsley has one of the better msm op-eds of the ’08 campaign this far, “Who Needs Experience?,” arguing that Senator Clinton goofed big time in trying to play the ‘experience’ card with a relatively-weak hand. Not that Senator Clinton doesn’t have good experience on her vita. But, saying “We can’t afford on-the-job training for our next president” was probably asking for trouble. As Kinsley explains in his WaPo/LaTimes column:

With her “on-the-job training” jab, Clinton was clearly referring to work experience. But there is also life experience. Being first lady is sort of half job and half life but good experience in either case.
She has to be careful about making a lot of this. Many people resent her using her position as first lady to take what they see as a shortcut to elective office. More profoundly, some people see her as having used her marriage as a shortcut to feminism. And the specter of dynasty hangs unattractively over her presidential ambitions. In an odd way, the deep unpopularity of George W. Bush has hurt Hillary Clinton, as people think: “Enough with relatives already.”

Kinsley may be on to something here. NH and IA voters sometimes take pride in being contrarians, and such bluster can be made to look really bad in attack ads. Obama has already responded to Senator Clinton’s remark with a pretty good zinger — “My understanding is that she wasn’t Treasury secretary in the Clinton administration. I don’t know exactly what experience she’s claiming.”
In addition, Edwards and the other Democratic candidates have equally/more impressive life and professional experience as Clinton. This is especially true for the second-tier candidates, Richardson, Dodd, Biden and Kucinich. Clinton would be wiser not to invite comparison of experience with any of the Democratic field. Her strong cards are an ability to talk about the issues with clarity and her portfolio of generally solid policies. To get back on game, she needs to work a little harder to convince voters that she is about the future, not the past. Otherwise, it’s the Clinton years were OK, but ‘been there, done that.’

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