Friday, March 30, 2007

Hillary Clinton the Maverick?

Yesterday, the Kaiser Foundation released its first poll on health care reform and the 2008 presidential election. The group plans to track the poll throughout the campaign.

Most of the results aren't that surprising. Health care is listed as the second most important issue to Americans of all political stripes behind Iraq, as just about every poll on the topic has shown.

But one point that did jump out was when the survey asked about the presidential candidates and health care reform.

One of the questions was, "And...thinking about all of the candidates for president, regardless of political party and whether or not you agree with their views, which candidate do you think is placing the BIGGEST EMPHASIS on health care issues?"

Far and away the response given the most was Hillary Clinton. 28 percent of Dems, 20 percent of independents, and 19 percent of Republicans named her. The next on the list was Barack Obama for Dems (10 percent) and independents (5 percent), while John Edwards and Rudy Giuliani tied for second among Republicans (3 percent).

Hillary Clinton? Putting the BIGGEST EMPHASIS on health care issues? Really?

Maybe in 1993-1994, but since then Clinton has been quite reluctant to utter the word "reform" alongside health care in any meaningful context.

Oddly enough, this suggests that the special interest thrashing Clinton took over a decade ago when she tried to spearhead national health care reform could actually help her 2008 presidential bid. That incident not only scared Clinton away from the topic, it kept just about every politician on the national stage from pushing fundamental reform for over a decade.

So, it seems, now that fundamental health care reform is back in vogue, the name that many people still associate with trying to do something significant about the health care crisis -- even though she failed -- is Hillary Clinton.

In that sense, if she plays her hand right, health care reform could be Clinton's maverick card. She was on the front lines fighting for it before it was politically cool.

And for those who think Clinton is too stiff to strike a populist chord, check out this new TNR piece on how she won over steelworkers, ironworkers, construction workers, and the whole bunch at a recent union rally, in much the same way that she won over farmers in upstate New York during her senate runs.

Another interesting point of the poll is that in spite of the fact that nearly 1 out of every 3 Republican respondents listed health care as the most important problem for government to address -- even ahead of Iraq -- when asked who best represents their views on health care reform, the GOP candidate mentioned most was Giuliani at just 7 percent.

Guess who else was named 7 percent of the time by Republicans: Hillary Clinton.

Can you say wedge issue?

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