Hillary 2.0: Without an Obama-like challenger, will media fill the void?
By Jordan Chariton, TheWrap
Hillary Rodham Clinton officially launched her presidential bid on Sunday to join Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and George H.W. Bush on list of modern-day politicians who tried to win the presidency after losing a first run.
“I’m running for president,” Clinton says in “Getting Started” campaign kick-off video. “Americans have fought their way back from tough economic times, but the deck is still stacked in favor of those at the top. Everyday Americans need a champion, and I want to be that champion so you can do more than just get by. You can get ahead and stay ahead. Because when families are strong, America is strong.”
“So I’m hitting the road to earn your vote. Because it’s your time and I hope you’ll join me on this journey.”
Hillary 2.0 already has a different feel than 2008: Gone is the, “I’m in it to win it” bravado, replaced with a more humble, biographical tone. Also out in the open—Clinton is a woman running for president, a marker she didn’t seem comfortable highlighting seven years ago.
One pivotal factor for Clinton remains—the political media. Hillary supporters rallied during the 2008 Democratic primary, charging the media with tossing objectivity and fairness out the window as they got sucked into then-newcomer Barack Obama’s “hope and change” euphoria.
This time around, the media doesn’t have an Obama gifting it with a sea of sound bites and soaring rhetoric. At the time of Clinton’s announcement, there’s no other Democratic challenger, and the current names speculated as potential opponents — former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, former Senator Jim Webb — don’t present a formidable threat to Hillary’s chances in these early stages.
One Clinton campaign insider told TheWrap that Clinton won’t be taking anything for granted and will be working tooth and nail for every vote.
“What you’re raising will be efforts [by the media] to distract from the issues,” the insider said. “She’s not going to be distracted—this is a person who fights for what she believes in.”
Clinton’s second campaign includes a communications team stacked with veteran aides who have positive relations with the press. Reporters who cover her every day will give Clinton a chance, Richard Socarides, former senior advisor to President Clinton, told TheWrap.
“I think Hillary will make a real effort to connect with the press. She already is… I know she wants to call it like she sees it this time around. And I think that will help her with the press.”
But attacks, not exclusively from conservative media, will be dealt with, a veteran political operative told TheWrap: “I expect you’ll see people both inside and outside deal with attacks as appropriate.”
Frank Sesno, director of the School of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University, predicts an incessant focus on “Clinton’s politics and her policies, on her proposals and, yes, on her personal life.”
“There is an anti-Clinton industry out there—and they’ve had years to fine-tune the attack machine,” he said. “But that’s the problem. It’s an attack machine, and many of the criticisms will come off as sounding purely partisan and may be diminished or dismissed as a result.”
On the media’s role, they’ll feel an obligation to scrutinize Clinton from a more “detached and credible perspective,” Sesno said. “There will be a sense that though she is unchallenged from the left, the voice of the left should be represented in the reporting, in the narrative. It will lack the fire of a credible opponent at a formal debate, but it will take place.”
She should take on critics directly, frequently and credibly, he concluded, advising that she’ll have to “work hard and project a deliberate and accessible persona if her campaign is to avoid becoming the next season of ‘House of Cards.’”
An Obama loyalist who was part of his first successful campaign says Clinton has challenges no other non-incumbent candidate for president has ever had. As a result, she has to play to her strengths.
“She does well when she is in settings that show just how comfortable she is with regular Americans – her media strategy will likely focus on that,” Bill Burton, national press secretary for Barack Obama’s campaign from 2007-2008, told TheWrap.
“Hillary Clinton will find her best venues and focus on those,” he said. “She has started by hiring a really smart communications team who really understands the changing metabolism of how news is communicated to the American people. When Obama started running for president, Twitter was brand new and we were able to use Facebook in ways it had never been used before. This time around, innovations like Meerkat and SnapChat offer great new ways to communicate with a brand new generation of voters.”
One of Obama’s biggest advantages over Clinton and Republicans in 2008 came from an enthused and enlivened youth voter movement. The candidate tapped Twitter and Facebook while also speaking to the problems younger people face, like college affordability, joblessness and student loans.
For Clinton to come close to matching Obama’s youth mojo, she’ll have to utilize today’s social stars.
“Secretary Clinton should treat Youtube, Vine and Snapchat personalities as seriously as she treats network TV hosts or New York Times journalists if she wants to ensure her message gets across to a younger audience,” Matthew Segal, co-founder of millennial-focused attn.com and OurTime.org told TheWrap. “The days of only speaking to legacy media brands are long over.”
But the platforms she uses means to reach younger voters will mean very little if she doesn’t get the policy right: “She should push to make college free, expand national service, legalize marijuana and get body cameras on every police officer. This is the substance that will excite throngs of young people, far more than going on MTV or sitting down with BuzzFeed will.”
Republicans disagree with many of those priorities, but are united on not wanting to see a Clinton cakewalk to the general election. After all, a candidate battered by other candidates—and the media— is more vulnerable than one riding high from a fairly easy victory.
“For Hillary, the main issue is concentration and discipline of message rather than appearing forceful in heading off attacks,” Boris Epshteyn, Republican analyst and former communications aide to the McCain-Palin campaign told TheWrap “However, I do believe that her campaign will struggle and she is wide open to attacks from the left and the right.”
Along the way, the former First Lady, Senator, and Secretary of State will surely field attacks from the left and right; legacy and social media; older and younger Americans felt left behind the economic recovery and, of course, the funnymen and women on late night TV.
Clinton seems more ready to answer to perceived scandals as well as play up who she is: an experienced politician who would be the first woman president.
“It’s time that we move from good words to good works, from sound bites to sound solutions,” she said in 2008 of candidate Obama’s oratory skills.
This time around, the key fact will be whether she can produce the buzzy sound bites that inspire people around her solutions.
Watch Hillary Clinton announce her presidential bid in “Getting Started” campaign video:
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