By James M. Perry
She seems inevitable. Poll numbers show that Hillary Rodham Clinton is supported by anywhere from 63 per cent to 73 percent of Democratic voters. "That makes her the most dominant front-runner at this stage of of a Presidential contest in the (Democratic) Party's modern history," notes Ryan Lizza in the New Yorker.
But others in recent years have had big leads too, and all of them at one time or another "faltered." Mr. Lizza ticks them off. Walter Mondale was challenged by Gary Hart in 1984. Al Gore was challenged by Bill Bradley in 2000. and Hillary, ahead by 30 points, was challenged and ultimately defeated by Barack Obama in 2008. And don't forget outspoken Howard Dean, who challenged everybody in 2004.
"Nature abhors a vacuum, and so does politics," Anita Dunn, a veteran Democratic strategist, told Mr. Lizza.
What Mr. Lizza fails to note is that, with the possible exception of Mr. Dean, Mr. Hart, Mr. Bradley, and Mr. Obama were serious, credible presidential candidates. Mr. Hart, in fact, if it hadn't been for monkey business with women other than his wife, could easily have won the nomination.
Mr. Lizza says Hillary's likely opponents include the outgoing governor of Maryland, Martin O'Malley, 51, a smooth operator, but barely known outside Maryland; former Virginia one-term senator Jim Webb, 68, who has barely been heard from since he walked away from his job last year; and Sen. Bernie Sanders, a 73-year-old Socialist from tiny Vermont.
Mr. Webb, a combat Marine and a former secretary of the Navy, is a very interesting, unorthodox politician. But he's probably too old. Mr. Sanders is even older, and a Socialist to boot, though he's really just another liberal Democrat.
Hillary will be a 69-year-old grandmother in 2016, and, surely, a credible challenge would, almost necessarily, come from a younger man or woman. Mr. Obama was younger (47), and beat her in the primaries in the only tough, close election she's ever run.
Mr. O'Malley, then, is the only one of Mr. Lizza's possible challengers that seems to fit the bill. He's young, vigorous, and smart. He might just be another Gary Hart, without the monkey business (he worked for Mr. Hart in Iowa in 1984). His problem might be that he raised taxes in his eight years as governor of Maryland, and his lieutenant governor, Anthony G. Brown, seeking to succeed him, was hammered for that by his successful GOP opponent, Larry Hogan, in a huge upset.
Gov. Jerry Brown of California, easily re-elected Nov. 4, would be a great challenger, if he were just 20 years younger. Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York, easily re-elected too, seems grumpy and out of sorts these days. Democrats just don't cotton to him.
Mr. Lizza failed to mention her, but if liberal Democrats had their druthers, they would love to see Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts challenge Hillary in the primaries. She insists she's not interested.
Anita Dunn is right. Politics abhors a vacuum. Somebody will challenge Hillary.
James M. Perry, a prominent veteran political reporter, contributes regular observations to post-gazette.com. Mr. Perry was the chief political correspondent of The Wall Street Journal until his retirement. Prior to that, he covered national politics for the Dow Jones weekly, The National Observer.