Who'll be the Democrats' 'anti-Hillary' in 2016?

While Hillary Clinton is heavily favored to win the Democratic nomination in 2016 – not that she's declared yet – there's reason to believe an 'anti-Hillary' challenger will emerge, probably from the left.

Susan Walsh/a
Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks after receiving the 2013 Lantos Human Rights Prize during a ceremony on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, Dec. 6, 2013. The New Hampshire-based human rights organization awarded its highest honor to Clinton for her efforts to promote human rights for women and through Internet freedom. (AP Photo/)

It’s pretty obvious that Hillary Clinton is the frontrunner for the Democratic Party presidential nomination in 2016. But who’s going to be the anti-Hillary? That’s something that’s much more difficult to foresee.

Yes, you read that right – the “anti-Hillary.” The structure of the developing 2016 race is such that it’s quite likely the former secretary of State will face an intra-party challenger who fashions themselves the yin to her yang.

That’s the point perceptive University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato makes in his “Crystal Ball” newsletter Thursday, in any case. He says Mrs. Clinton remains the heavy favorite to win the Democratic nomination, but that there’s lots of lingering resentment within the party toward her husband, who pushed the party to the right during his presidency, and toward her own vote for the Iraq war as a senator in 2002.

She’ll “at least receive a minimal challenge from someone for the nomination. One possibility to watch: ex-Gov. Brian Schweitzer of Montana,” write Sabato and colleague Kyle Kondik.

OK, we’re watching. And guess what? On Wednesday, former Governor Schweitzer ... criticized Hillary’s vote on the Iraq war during an appearance in Iowa. That’s where they hold those first-in-the-nation caucuses that kick off the presidential race. In case you’ve forgotten.

“I didn’t vote for that war, and I didn’t think it was a good idea,” he said at an event for the left-leaning group Progress Iowa, according to a report in the Des Moines Register.

Schweitzer didn’t mention Clinton specifically. But Register reporter Jennifer Jacobs asked him about her afterwards, and she writes that he responded with a grin.

“Did she vote for it? I didn’t keep track,” said Schweitzer.

Nudge, nudge; wink, wink; know-what-I-mean? Afterwards Schweitzer auctioned off his tie and other articles of clothing as a fund-raiser for the progressive group.

We’ve got a couple of points to make about this anti-Hillary business, however. The first is that whoever wants to assume this mantle has a long, long way to rise, and they’d better get busy and hustle to Iowa, as Schweitzer has.

Just look at the polls. Last week the Register put out its Iowa poll rating possible 2016 contenders, and Hillary just killed. Eighty-nine percent of Iowa Democrats said they had a somewhat or very favorable opinion of her.

Schweitzer, in contrast, was a blip. Sixteen percent of Iowa Democrats said they had a favorable opinion of him. Fully 70 percent said they weren’t sure, meaning they probably didn’t know who he is.

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, another possible Hillary challenger, had the same problem. He got an 18 percent favorable rating and a 69 percent “not sure.”

Look, it’s still a long ways to 2016, and Barack Obama wasn’t exactly a household name at the same point in the 2008 cycle. But Jimmy Carter could probably beat Schweitzer and O’Malley’s numbers in Iowa at the moment. This is why running for president is such a slog of hand-shaking and precinct-visiting in Iowa and New Hampshire for many contenders.

Finally, don’t count out Hillary herself as the anti-Hillary of 2016.

This thought isn’t original with us – veteran reporter Ron Fournier of the National Journal floats this Thursday in a column that’s written in the style of a faux campaign memo.

Fournier points out that Washington insiders, intensely political people, and national institutions are all polling badly at the moment. Problem is, Hillary is all three of those things.

That means she has to campaign as an honest, accessible, vulnerable, competent populist, writes Fournier.

“To win, you must be the anti-Hillary. You need to blast the public’s caricature of you to smithereens and replace it with what we know as the real Hillary,” goes the fake memo.

Of course, Hillary could give pundits everywhere the vapors by deciding she doesn’t want to run for president after all. She’s still sounding ... unconvinced.

“I haven’t made up my mind. Obviously I will look carefully at what I think I can do and make that decision sometime next year,” she told Barbara Walters in an interview for Walters’ “10 Most Fascinating People of 2013”.

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