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Has the Philadelphia debate damaged Hillary Clinton?

November 7, 2007

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She can definitely dish it out but can she take it?

The 1931 Oscar-winning film Little Caesar contained the memorable line “You can dish it out, but you got so you can’t take it”. Several commentators have been saying the same about Senator Clinton after she seemed to have trouble dealing with the barrage of criticism from both the other candidates and the presenter, Tim Russert. Indeed, Hillary Clinton seems to have retreated into using her gender as a defence, characterising the debate as “six guys against Hillary.” At the same time her evasive answers on drivers licences for immigrants have drawn scorn from the right, leading the columnist E.J.Dionne to suggest that the GOP might use immigration as a major theme. There also seems to be some indication that there has been some fallout in the polls, with Clinton falling below 40% in the Rasmussen tracking polls for the first time since September, and also experiencing a drop in New Hampshire.

However, some caution needs to be applied. Although I personally dislike Hillary Clinton, the decision of the candidates and the presenter to concentrate their fire on Hillary implicitly acknowledged her almost complete dominance of the contest. At the same time, the effectiveness of the gender card among a certain section of centre-left voters should not be underestimated. Although there is strong empirical evidence that there are still more chauvinists than feminists among the general US population, at least when women are running for a particular office for the first time, a certain election in Britain earlier this years shows that centre-left voters are prepared to choose a woman playing the gender card, even over another (and better qualified) woman. Also, while a slashing campaign over immigration may boost the GOP’s chances in certain areas, it could make the Republican party a permanent party of opposition in previously marginal states. It is also an argument that Rudolph Giuliani or John McCain could not use. In short this does nothing to change the fundamental dynamics of the contest.

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