Hillary flies high, but her biggest test is yet to come

Originally published on George Reeves' blog

Since entering the presidential race earlier this year, Hillary Clinton has been the clear favourite to win the Democratic nomination, consistently leading in the polls and sweeping up endorsements from every conceivable wing of the party, yet until this week she had been treated with a degree of caution by political pundits. After all, we've been here once before; eight years ago Mrs Clinton was seen as a shoo-in to win her party's nomination, and we all know how that ended. Nevertheless, the events of the past few days have given commentators a new sense of confidence regarding the former Secretary of State's prospects, and rightly so - Hillary Clinton will undoubtedly be the Democratic candidate for president in next year's general election.


Last week brought the long-awaited announcement of Vice President Joe Biden's intentions, and to the surprise of many the well-liked political veteran decided that he would give this race a miss, pointing out that it is now too late for him to mount a successful campaign. From the point of view of a neutral observer, Biden's decision is a great loss for this presidential contest, yet it is probably the right choice for a man who will be 74 on Inauguration Day and who is still reeling from the tragic loss of his son Beau earlier this year. It has also spared the Democratic establishment a great deal of pain, preventing a Clinton/Biden split from emerging within the party hierarchy and thus leaving Hillary free to claim her long-awaited crown.


Secretary Clinton was also boosted by her appearance in front of the House Benghazi Committee, an eleven-hour marathon in which she confidently and patiently answered tough questions about the 2012 terrorist attack in Libya which killed four Americans. Despite the best efforts of Republican committee members, led by chairman Trey Gowdy, Clinton left the hearing looking competent and reasonable compared with her partisan and overly politicised inquisitors. Benghazi has been an albatross around Clinton's neck throughout this campaign, but in wake of last week's hearing she can finally distance herself from the shadow of this tragedy.


The third big event of the last seven days was Saturday's Jefferson-Jackson dinner in Iowa, a rite of passage for Democratic presidential candidates and an event which brought yet more joy for Secretary Clinton. Back in 2007, the Jefferson-Jackson proved to be a serious turning point in the presidential race as a little-known senator from Illinois went from long-shot to frontrunner, and as such many were predicting that this year's event may also prove to be a game changer.


However, this time it just wasn't to be. Aided by the decisions of two Democratic candidates to drop out of the race - former senator Jim Webb of Virginia, and former governor Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island - Mrs Clinton arrived in Iowa with a spring in her step as the overwhelming frontrunner in a field of just three candidates. Fresh from her success at the Benghazi hearing and bolstered by support from her husband Bill and pop star Katy Perry, she delivered a speech which was confident yet cautious, defending the record of President Barack Obama and subtly criticising her nearest rival for the nomination, Bernie Sanders.


Senator Sanders did not pull any punches either, laying into Mrs Clinton's record on issues such as gay rights, Wall Street reform, free trade and the Iraq War in order to distance himself from the former Secretary of State whilst emphasising his own impeccable left-wing credentials. His passionate speech was met with an equally enthusiastic response from his amassed supporters, yet by simply resorting to throwing progressive red meat to his base Sanders reinforced his image as a perpetual activist, thus inadvertently providing the sharpest contrast with his statesmanlike opponent.


Hillary Clinton has not always had an easy relationship with the Democratic Party, an outfit which rejected her in 2008 and which has, until recently, responded to her current presidential campaign with a distinct lack of enthusiasm. Nevertheless, with Biden out of the race and just Bernie Sanders and Martin O'Malley left running against her, Mrs Clinton has now solidified her status as the party's nominee-in-waiting. This week has brought more good news for the former First Lady, as polls suggest that she has the support of almost two-thirds of Iowa caucus-goers whilst she has also received the endorsement of Bernie Sanders' closest congressional ally, Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio.


It would, however, be wrong to assume that Clinton now faces a clear path to the White House. The Republican Party may currently be in a state of disarray, with populist clowns Donald Trump and Ben Carson currently bickering over which of them is the GOP frontrunner, but with over a dozen candidates still in contention there is plenty of time for a substantial figure to emerge as the party's eventual nominee. Either Marco Rubio or Jeb Bush would be strong contenders to reclaim the White House for the Republican Party, whilst Secretary Clinton remains a deeply polarising figure amongst the general public and may struggle to win over independent voters. Regardless of her strong performance in front of the Benghazi committee, polls suggest that large numbers of people do not consider her to be honest or trustworthy, and on top of that she continues to battle with accusations that she is an elitist with little concern for ordinary people and a voting record that is insufficiently liberal. Hillary Clinton may have the Democratic nomination in the bag, but her biggest test will come next summer when the general election campaign begins.

George Reeves is the Vice President of Birmingham University Conservative Future. He tweets as @georgereeves94