There was an air of inevitability surrounding Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid from day one. The political action committees were lining up months before the former secretary of state launched her campaign, potential challengers like Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden stayed out, and the name-recognition her resume provides drew plenty of money and coverage. The Clinton campaign had some trouble getting underway after a highly telegraphed beginning and started over twice, but by the fall of 2015 its candidate had managed to brush off the controversy surrounding her personal e-mail server and held a comfortable lead over her closest rival. The game changed after the field narrowed to Ms. Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders; a statistical tie in Iowa and a 20-point loss in New Hampshire put an end to talk of a coronation. The losses are not seriously threatening the former New York senator’s front-runner status, but they have sent a shockwave through Ms. Clinton’s supporters and exposed a weakness in her campaign that money and endorsements cannot make up for. She does not have the charisma then-Senator Obama had in 2008 or the trust Senator Sanders has now. In frustration Gloria Steinem resorted to a stereotype more likely attributable to Donald Trump than the well-known feminist leader. Madeline Albright doubled down when she said there is “a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.” The wind beneath Hillary’s wings? Nope.
The primary campaign is moving on, and with 48 states still up for grabs, so is the focus. The commentariat has mostly accepted the Clinton camp’s contention it has an edge with minority voters it could not find with millenials. Pundits are referring to South Carolina as a “firewall” for Ms. Clinton, and she is counting on a well-established relationship with what a campaign spokesman called “communities of color” to slow down the wily Vermont senator. The message did not get through to people like Shaun King; the New York Daily News columnist dismissed the notion as “insulting on its face.” Ms. Clinton is confronting some real problems: the women, millenials, and minorities her campaign has apparently taken for granted are not falling in line — exit polls from New Hampshire gave Senator Sanders a three-to-one edge with each of them. She didn’t help her cause when she laughed off Anderson Cooper’s question over a $675,000 fee billed to Goldman Sachs as “what they offered,” then refused to release transcripts of the three speeches she gave. It doesn’t take a Republican to wonder if Ms. Clinton would confront her clients and donors over the economy or income inequality. She’s already left the impression of a consummate insider, with the associated baggage. It sent New Hampshire voters who want an outsider as president to Senator Sanders by a four-to-one margin. The Clinton camp’s caution is being confronted by a promise of “political revolution” and it’s losing.
It’s losing because the party Ms. Clinton is eager to lead is changing. Democrats struggling over who to send against the GOP in November are trending younger, more diverse, and more liberal. Senator Sanders is cleaning up with all three. Why? The self-described democratic socialist is elusive about how he would pay for the cadre of programs his campaign is built around, but his supporters don’t care. His will to aim higher leaves the senator looking like Don Quixote; all the more so after Ms. Clinton sent her daughter out to undercut Sanders’ single-payer health plan by claiming it would sabotage the Affordable Care Act. The former first lady’s ongoing critique of “Medicare for all” and tuition-free college is leaving her looking like a cranky chaperone at the hottest party in town. But she’s got an important friend — not a fund-raiser, an endorser, or a DNC Chairwoman — the committee members and elected officials known as superdelegates who can endorse either candidate, regardless of how their state votes. They are unique to Democrats and have kept Ms. Clinton close, allowing her to leave New Hampshire tied with her foe. They don’t seem very important now because the first two states carry 16 between them, but NBC News reported hundreds are lined up for Ms. Clinton nationwide. Their support could allow her to lose the primary, but still win the nomination. In the end, Debbie Schultz could find herself wishing she had secured a pledge from Senator Sanders to remain loyal to the Democrat’s nominee.