“My opponent,” he declared in a memorable pre-election summation, “is a document-shredding, Constitution-trashing, Commander in Chief-bashing, Congress-thrashing, uniform-shaming, Ayatollah-loving, arms-dealing, criminal-protecting, résumé-enhancing, Noriega-coddling, Social Security-threatening, public school-denigrating, Swiss-banking-law-breaking, letter-faking, self-serving, election-losing, snake-oil salesman who can’t tell the difference between the truth and a lie.”
Mr. Robb remained an intensely unpopular figure in Virginia throughout the election. But he still managed to defeat Mr. North by three points.
In most years, there would be reason to believe that Mrs. Clinton’s high negative scores would doom her. But just like Mr. Robb was saved by Mr. North’s baggage, Mrs. Clinton could easily be bailed out in 2008 by the public’s growing distaste for the Republican brand.
The difficulty for any party of winning the White House for three consecutive terms has been well-noted in the run-up to ’08: Only once since World War II – George H.W. Bush’s 1988 election – has it happened. That cyclical fatigue figures to be exaggerated by the dismal standing of President Bush, the Iraq war, and even the Republicans in Congress. (Congressional Democrats now score miserably as well, but polls show that the G.O.P.’s low ratings come from independent voters, while Democrats score worse among Democrats. Presumably, it will be easier for Democrats to win a reprieve from their own in ’08 then it will for Republicans to win back independents.)
That environment, barring a dramatic change in public opinion, may compensate for Mrs. Clinton’s own shaky favorable rating. Recent polls have her ahead of all of the likely G.O.P. nominees both nationally and in some states that voted Republican in 2004, like Ohio, New Mexico, and Arkansas. If voters are hungry to toss the G.O.P. out next year, Mrs. Clinton can survive by projecting competence, even if the public never does warm up to her. After all, if Chuck Robb could handle Oliver North in Virginia in 1994, it would be silly to assume that Hillary Clinton can’t beat whoever the Republicans nominate in 2008.