On Sunday, Bernie Sanders challenged Hillary Clinton to debate in New York, her adopted home state and the state he was raised in, before the crucial primary there next month. The next day, Joel Benenson, Clinton’s chief political strategist, went on CNN and said that Clinton’s decision on a possible debate would depend on the “tone of the campaign” Sanders was running.
Statements like Benenson’s make it seem like Clinton and her supporters think she should be able to run for the Democratic nomination unchallenged.
We’ve seen this before, and it didn’t work well for Clinton. In 2008, Hillary Clinton was seen by many as the inevitable Democratic candidate. Many campaign watchers have argued this is why her team in Iowa wasn’t as sophisticated as Barack Obama’s, allowing Obama to win that state’s caucuses, which ultimately catapulted him to the nomination and the presidency.
Now, history seems to be repeating itself, at least partly. Clinton likely thought she’d have the nomination sewed up by now, if not much earlier in the primary race. She is clearly done debating with Sanders. But for one of Clinton’s main advisors to call out Sanders for his “tone” rings hollow. Sure, Sanders has been negative towards Clinton; he is, after all, running against her. But when you compare the tone on the Democratic side to that of the Republican race, or to almost any political campaign, it has been downright collegial. The Vermont senator has lobbed almost no personal attacks against Clinton. And Sanders hasn’t hit her on the e-mail scandal or Benghazi.
Clinton is still the frontrunner for the nomination and it is going to be a long and difficult general election. But as much as she may want the primary to be over, it isn’t.