On its surface, the recently released music video produced by the PAC Stand with Hillary, not quite a formal part of Hillary Clinton’s not quite announced campaign for the Democratic nomination in 2016, is little more than further evidence of the difficulty Hillary Clinton may encounter turning a sterling resume and impressive intellect into a strong campaign.
Frank Bruni, writing in Sunday’s New York Times, suggests that the video “positions [Hillary Clinton] first and foremost as all woman. The references are incessant,” and is part of an effort by Clinton strategists to position their candidate as the woman’s candidate. Leaving aside what the Democratic reaction would be if a Republican woman sought female votes with an ad starring a handsome dude in cowboy hat, faded dungarees and Western boots, there is more to her strategy than meets the eye.
This spot–clearly targeted at white men–features few people of color. The singer is a young white man with a pronounced twang in his voice, who seems to be trying to communicate to other white men that it is perfectly ok to support a strong woman. The cowboy in the ad reminds us that Ms. Clinton “Fights for country and my family, now its time for us to stand up with Hillary.” Fine. But the ad reflects the problems Democratic candidates continue to have in winning support from white men. Barack Obama won a little more than one-third of the white male vote in 2012, while nationally only 33% percent of that demographic cast their vote for Democrats in November’s midterm election. Ms. Clinton, or her strategists, are appropriately concerned about her ability to win enough white male votes to get elected.
Rhetoric about Republican wars on women notwithstanding, white women also seem to be reasonably solidly in the Republican corner, casting 56 percent for both Mr. Romney and for Republican House candidates this past November.
The video, however, focuses primarily on a specific subset of those white male voters; and that is perhaps what, from a strategic perspective, is most striking. The man strumming the guitar and singing about the women in his life is not only white and male, but distinctly rural and not affluent. The idea that Ms. Clinton wants to increase her white support is not news, the notion that she thinks rural and, from the look of the ad, low income, white men will provide that support is more interesting.
Even in a country that is growing increasingly diverse, Democrats will have a hard time winning elections if their white support dips further, so identifying strategies to reach white voters is valuable. However, trying to get those votes from the specific subset of voters who, according to exit poll data, are least likely to vote Democrat is strange and does not help with other white voters who might be more likely to support Ms. Clinton against a Republican.
Ms. Clinton is making a similar tactical mistake to the one she made in 2008 when she ran against the white liberals who make up a huge proportion of Democratic primary voters. Her campaign seemingly has fond memories of the Democratic coalition being rooted in blue-collar white voters. While that was true for much of the middle of the twentieth century, it is no longer accurate. It is not irrelevant for Ms. Clinton that the last Democratic presidential candidate to resonate with lower income white voters was Bill Clinton, but things have changed a lot since Mr. Clinton last ran in 1996. Many young voters have little memory of Mr. Clinton’s successes or of a time when economic divisions, rather than social or cultural issues, defined party identification for white voters.
The white voters who Ms. Clinton will need to win are more likely to come from educated liberals, younger woman and urban residents. This video will likely not attract any of those groups. Obviously, the music video is only one of many that Ms. Clinton produces. Nonetheless, Democrats should be unsettled that one of the first major pieces of media from the Clinton camp seems like it was made a generation ago.
Lincoln Mitchell is national political correspondent at the Observer. Follow him on Twitter @LincolnMitchell.