President Obama had barely lowered his hand from saying the Oath of Office to begin his second term in January 2013 when the Ready for Hillary super political action committee (“PAC”) was formed that same month. Former Senator Clinton was still the Secretary of State when the Super PAC was created, indicating that she, or at least her supporters, was interested in her running for President in 2016. Since then, much has been said about how this is Hillary Clinton’s moment and the Democratic nomination is hers, should she want it. She all but confirmed that she does when she visited Iowa in mid-September for the first time since the 2008 Presidential election and said that she is “thinking about it.” But these pronouncements may be premature, especially when it comes to the Black community, which holds significant sway during Presidential elections.
Every election matters. Voters cannot eschew the 2014 midterm elections when all 435 seats in the United States House of Representatives and 33 of the 100 seats in the United States Senate will be contested, along with 38 state and territorial governorships. We saw what happened in 2010 when people did not vote with the same enthusiasm that they did in 2008, if at all. President Obama was left with a Congress intent on blocking his every move, resulting in less work being accomplished. We cannot be so focused on the forest of the presidency that we lose sight of the trees that are the Congressional races, which are just as important.
Even after November 2014, however, there is no throne to which Hillary Clinton will automatically ascend, assuming she decides to run. There are several other potential candidates who should be seen as strong contenders, including Senator Elizabeth Warren and Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley. This is not to mention sitting Vice President Joe Biden, to whom the nod would normally go as a presumptive nominee. While the Democratic presidential primary may not be as contentious as it was in 2008, one should not make the mistake of believing that Hillary Clinton is the heir apparent to the Obama presidency and, therefore, should not be opposed by other well-qualified Democrats. Nor should her camp take Democrat voters for granted.
Black Democrats, in particular, may challenge Hillary Clinton, should she choose to run. There are a substantial number of fences that “Ready for Hillary” must mend with the Black community if Clinton is to earn our votes, going back to the contentious primary between her and then-Senator Obama during his first campaign. In 2007 and early 2008, former President Bill Clinton had biting words for then-Senator Obama, publicly comparing Obama’s primary victory in South Carolina to Jesse Jackson’s campaigns in the eighties. Further, Bill Clinton alleged that the Obama campaign had played “the race card” on him and seemed hyper-focused on Obama’s lack of experience. Infamously, he called Obama’s record on Iraq the “biggest fairytale I’ve ever seen.” These statements and others did not sit well within the Black community, which has been historically loyal to Mr. Clinton. While these statements were made by Bill and not Hillary, they were made in relation to her run and a candidate takes on the baggage of his or her spouse more often than not anyway.
Some potential Black Democratic voters have indicated that, while they will support Hillary Clinton should she become the eventual nominee, it will not be with the same fervor because of a sense of bad blood experienced during the 2008 campaign. This sentiment must not go unchecked by Ready for Hillary because Black voters, while not a monolith, are a large constituency that must be courted by Democrats to win the presidency. There is a sense of entitlement that Hillary Clinton has not earned within the Black community, currently allowing her supporters to take Black votes for granted. Hillary Clinton will have to earn our support and our votes just as any other candidate does.
Recently, Clinton waited nineteen days after Mike Brown was killed to give her thoughts on his death and the aftermath (though she did speak more pointedly about race and police brutality when she finally did break her silence then most politicians who weighed in, including President Obama.) Many wondered why it took so long for her to make a statement. Interestingly, Clinton timed her remarks to fall on the 51st anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech during the 1963 March on Washington. Whether this was political posturing or merely a coincidence, Clinton did not endear herself to many in the Black community by waiting until it appeared that the most tumultuous days had passed. Although Toni Morrison's taken-out-of-context comment that Bill Clinton was the "first Black president" has been repeated many times over the years, Hillary Clinton has no automatic 'in' with the Black community. While she may be found to be the most qualified Democrat if she decides to run for President in 2016, it seems likely that she will have to make amends with the Black community before winning our enthusiastic support and our votes in the primaries.