Thursday, November 01, 2007


Hillary's Worst Enemy... not who you'd think.

It's not the easy answer of "herself" or "Bill."

It's certainly not Barack Obama or any of the other Democrats. For that matter, it's not even GOP front-runner Rudy Giuliani or the rest of the Republican field.

No, it is starting to look like Sen. Clinton's biggest obstacle -- indeed, the biggest wild card in Democratic fortunes in '08 -- is NY Gov. Eliot Spitzer.

The governor has had perhaps the most disastrous first year of any chief executive in recent memory (certainly of anyone who won office with 70 percent of the vote. It started with a scandal that only impacted him -- the so-called "Troopergate" or "Choppergate" dirt tricks scandal. It involved the use of State Police allegedly to enact a political smear against Spitzer's legislative foe, Republican Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno.

Four months into the story,
one probe has raised as many questions as it answered, another semi-exonerated him using less-than-diligent investigatory methods -- and two more are ongoing.

the damage has been done: Nearly 60 percent of NYers don't think he's been honest in discussing the scandal and 70 percent want him to testify publically. Those sort of numbers, of course, can carry over into the public policy sphere.

Which is exactly what has happened with respect to Spitzer's plan -- announced a little more than a month ago -- to permit illegal immigrants to have driver's licenses. Spitzer claimed that illegals are already in the state and that giving them licenses would ultimately make the streets safer by allowing the immigrants to drive the roads legally and give them access to insurance.A normal politician, facing a political scandal like Troopergate, would have tried to change the subject by swiveling to embrace an issue that has clear support of a large segment of the public. Spitzer did the exact opposite, producing 72 percent opposition to his plan -- in a state with a 5-3 Democrat over Republican registration. The pro-immigrant last three mayors of New York City (Bloomberg, Giuliani and Ed Koch) all oppose it -- which earned them a piece of Spitzer's already-infamous disdain.

Worse, Spitzer has now managed to elevate what should be a completely moribund state GOP. The Troopergate fiasco managed to turn the aforementioned Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno -- ethically challenged and under FBI investigation himself -- into a victim of a political attack. The driver's license fiasco has turned the somewhat third-rate pol Assembly Leader Jim Tedisco into a
principled leader of the opposition. In addition to the national security implications, Tedisco has also tied Spitzer's plan to the enhanced opportunity for voter fraud that it creates.

Meanwhile, CNN's immigration reform diva Lou Dobbs has made Spitzer's handling of the driver's license issue a national controversey
with nightly updates. He had Bruno on the program earlier this week.

To buy more time, Spitzer cut a deal last weekend with the Department of Homeland Security. He agreed to create, over the course of the next year, to make a three-tiered driver's license: One for full-fledged citizens that could also be used as a national ID-equivalent for travel and other such purposes; another for green-card holders; and another "drive-only" document that illegals could use, but would not serve as identification for travel or other official government forms.

This "compromise", not surprisingly, satisfied no one: Those opposed to giving licenses to illegals still hated it. Immigrants rights groups felt that Spitzer was selling them out -- and Spitzer's supporters felt that he had blind-sided them. Worse, by punting on the issue, until next year, Spitzer has placed it right into the middle of the election year.

At the state level, this is bad enough: Democrats had high hopes of getting control of the state Senate (they already have an overwhelming majority in the Assembly); they only need to get three seats. With what was looking like a very favorable year for Democrats nationally -- and with the strong possibility that a New York Democrat would be heading the presidential ticket, things looked very good.

Eliot Spitzer has now turned that completely upside down.

Democrats statewide are forced to defend a policy that is just indefensible politically. And, as Hillary Rodham Clinton discovered, the issue has metastasized to attack her in a way that no shots from either fellow Democrats or Republicans had managed to do so far. While she has managed to finesse her votes on Iran and Iraq, the non-answers she gave on the driver's license issue at the last debate just didn't wash. Instead, they ended up drawing attention to her evasiveness on other issues. She has been so cautious in every other area of her campaign, that she should have seen it coming, but didn't -- perhaps because it was coming from what should be considered a "friendly" source. And it may prove particularly damaging given that it makes her vulnerable to, as luck would have it, a presidential opponent running from the same state -- and on an explicitly national-security focused agenda.

There is an unusual irony at play here: It's said that governors usually have an advantage over senators when running for president -- because they are already "chief executives" and are seen as being decisive; senators, conversely, cast so many votes that they are vulnerable to defending all of them -- and are often seen as "supporting characters" rather than leaders. However, as Michael Dukakis discovered, governors can also be vulnerable to attacks on their policy decisions (Willie Horton) and record (Boston Bay, the "Massachusetts Miracle," etc.).

But here in New York, how stunning would it be if the Hillary Clinton Express might be derailed, not by votes from the senator herself, but by a loose-cannon governor's policy vehicle that got stalled on the tracks?

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