Hope springs eternal. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is poised to become the first declared let-lightning-strike-me candidate, meaning his only hope to become the Democrat nominee for president is if the Hillary Clinton juggernaut crashes amid scandal or voter doubt.
Sanders, who’s expected to announce Thursday, no doubt sees opportunity for that in the latest fund-raising and email controversies swirling around the all-but-anointed Clinton. The miracle Sanders is banking on is rare but not unprecedented. Consider two examples from Illinois:
*In 1992 Alan Dixon was a two-term incumbent who looked to be a shoo-in for reelection to the U.S. Senate, so popular among voters and colleagues that he was known as Al the Pal. But his support for the U.S. Supreme Court nomination of Clarence Thomas amid the Anita Hill controversy exploded in his face as outraged women voters looked for a place to vent their anger and found it in the Democrat primary to elect Carol Moseley Braun the first African-American woman senator.
*In 1979 Jane Byrne seemed to be tilting at windmills in her Democratic primary challenge to unseat Chicago Mayor Michael Bilandic. Then the snow came, and came, and came — seven feet of it. The city was unable to clear the record drifts from streets though Bilandic claimed otherwise. Outraged Chicagoans looked for a place to vent their anger and voted to make Byrne the city’s first woman mayor.
The little known Sanders, 73, an avowed socialist, will be the longest of long-shots in the 2016 Democrat primary. Other more electorally promising candidates will enter to be the alternative should Clinton falter — most likely former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley as well as former Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia, and just maybe left-wing firebrand Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.
And who’s to say that lightning can’t strike this time. Not only do I no longer believe Clinton to be the inevitable next president, I think the disclosures of millions of dollars in dodgy-looking foreign donations to her foundation and her questionable email shredding have knocked her off the pedestal as the inevitable Democrat nominee.
That’s not to say that she won’t win the nomination. The odds are still high. But you have to wonder if these new controversies and the memories of scandals past from the Bill Clinton presidency aren’t pushing her candidacy toward a tipping point.
How much more can Democrat voters stomach? Already there’s the millions of dollars in foreign donations to the Clinton Foundation during her time as secretary of state that carry the stench of influence peddling. A new Rasmussen poll finds that 63 percent of likely voters think some of her State Department work probably was influenced by these donations.
In a blow to her claims of transparency, the Washington Post reports that a charity affiliated with the Clinton Foundation failed to reveal the identities of 1,100 donors. This comes as Clinton says it’s time to get “unaccounted money” out of our political system.
All this followed disclosures that as secretary of state she used a private email account to do government business and that she deleted 30,000 emails even though Congress wanted to see emails in its investigation of the Benghazi attack that killed four Americans, including the ambassador.
The Clinton camp responds this is all old news, distractions and right-wing attacks. Her defenders deflect blame: She wasn’t involved in the decisions on security at the Benghazi consulate. She had nothing to do with State Department approval of a deal favorable to a foundation donor.
In other words, she was in charge but not responsible. It sounds like in a Clinton White House, the buck would stop over there.
It will be months before anyone casts a vote, so we are left to wonder how these disclosures might have played out if they had come nearer to balloting time.
Storm clouds are gathering over the Clinton candidacy. Will they generate lightning?