In politics optics is everything and at the moment Hillary Clinton is facing stormy seas.
After barely squeaking out a win in Iowa, a trouncing in New Hampshire, and no better than a draw in the last debate, the Hillary Clinton juggernaut is noticeably stalling on the unfamiliar terrain being laid down by a previously little-known challenger.
The image of a seasoned, experienced, universally recognizable figure may be a serious drawback for a new generation of young voters disdainful of government as usual, intent on a sharp break with the politics of the past, and willing to embrace more radical approaches.
Bernie Sanders, the self-styled democratic socialist, caught the seemingly unstoppable wave of this mounting resentment and is riding it for all it’s worth.
Clinton, a highly visible member of the ruling class, has trouble arguing that some of the policies she advanced as a relatively young Senator which were closer to the mainstream of liberal thinking at the time are still sufficiently progressive today.
Reactions to the economic meltdown in 2008 and what many youthful voters and middle class wage earners see as a failure by the Obama Administration to rein in Wall Street with tougher regulations and to create more jobs resulted in an environment ready-made for charismatic crusaders such as Sanders and Donald Trump.
Never mind that what both men have been serving up are mostly false promises.
The nomination is still within reach of the embattled former Secretary of State, though it may depend more upon rising fears that her opponent, Sen. Bernie Sanders, might succeed rather than renewed affection for Clinton or continuing fixation with electing the first lady president.
Several factors may still work in her favor.
For one thing, the socialist label could remain a troublesome barrier for Sanders among the core Democrats most likely to vote in general elections and particularly older citizens who turn out in largest numbers and are highly suspicious of reforms he is proposing that are both undeliverable and de-stabilizing.
On the other hand the label no longer carries the same fearful connotations as in yesteryear and socialist democracies are common elsewhere such as in Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, Canada, Sweden, Norway, Belgium and Ireland to name the most prominent.
In 2011, Pew Research polling found that socialism was actually viewed more favorably than capitalism by some sizable demographic groups, including “liberal Democrats, blacks, Latinos, households making less than $30,000, and Americans aged 18-29.”
While polling to determine voters with socialist identities or leanings has not been conducted much in the U.S. a June 2015 Gallup poll actually showed 47 percent of Americans willing to vote for a socialist candidate with that figure rising to 59% among Democrats.
A November New York Times/CBS News poll has 56 percent of Democratic primary voters nationally viewing socialism in a positive light.
The Nevada caucus, with its far more heterogeneous population and a preponderance of blue collar and Hispanic voters coming up on February 21, will pose a much stiffer test. As of now the candidates are in a dead heat.
If Nevada breaks even, South Carolina one week later and a goldmine for Hillary in 2008 with its concentration of black and minority voters—becomes an unbreachable firewall if she is to begin containing the Sanders surge.
A second factor which has lost some of its persuasiveness is the assumption that Clinton would be the stronger candidate against a Republican opponent—and especially Donald Trump who is extending his lead as the man to beat.
Whether the GOP heavyweights who would concur might ultimately rally around a more viable candidate and what Trump would do if rejected is not knowable.
If that were to happen, the soothsayers are predicting a possible stampede back to the one candidate who the GOP establishment preferred from the beginning—-Jeb Bush. However the Bush brand is also in some tatters.
And wait: there could be other surprises ahead which might once again upset all the arithmetic.
If Clinton continues to falter, Michael Bloomberg, the former New York City mayor, may be tempted to jump in. That could throw an even bigger wrench into a maelstrom that already exceeds the bounds of credulity.
The Oscar awards are just ahead. The one movie that deserves the trophy has not yet been made. It is The Amazing Presidential Race of 2016!