Though it wouldn’t mean anything to Hillary Clinton, a football metaphor has been used to describe her campaign. Blogger Kirk Caraway, for example, writes: “Hillary has the best campaign organization, and knows that the nomination is hers as long as she doesn’t make a mistake. But just like a football team playing prevent defense, sometimes it prevents you from winning.”
While the term “prevent defense” isn’t used much anymore in pro football, the strategy itself is still used. When the clock is winding down and a team finds itself with a slim lead, the coach is liable to go all conservative on us. Since everyone knows that the losing team needs to pass to catch up, he plays his team’s defensive backs deep.
The offense is thus able to complete short passes in front of them. But it’s almost impossible to connect on a scoring strike. Still, as every fan can tell you, a succession of short passes against it takes the team down the road to defeat as sure as a long pass.
Hillary Clinton’s conservative strategy leaves her wide open to attacks from those on the left who question her opposition to our presence in Iraq. But to her and her staff, that’s just giving up short passes and they’re unlikely to yield enough points, or votes, to lose.
Were she to call for complete withdrawal, though, the charge that she’s soft on defense might stick. The fear on the part of Clinton’s people is that, the equivalent of a long pass, it might yield enough votes against her to prevent her from being nominated.
Assuming she is, though, the Democrats will find that running Hillary is like playing a prevent defense from the opening whistle. First, there’s the infamous October 20 Zogby poll that shows 50% of the poll’s respondents would never vote for Hillary. (In the process turning the old clichÃ© “Never say never” on its head until it cries “Always say never.”)
Second, Hillary is only leading Giuliani by three or four points. How, you ask, can a Republican spurned by the base of much of his party find himself that close to the leading representative of the stronger team, the Democrats?
Because, even though the hard right characterizes her as the epitome of liberalism, Hillary is a Democrat in name only, equally as unpopular with the base of her party as Giuliani is with his.
The Democrats sell themselves short by using the prevent defense when the Republicans aren’t, for one reason or another, fielding their best team. They handicap themselves by opting for a candidate capable of providing only a slim margin of victory.
With Mike Huckabee closing the Iowa gap on Romney (sorry, can’t bear to call a grown man “Mitt”), the prevent defense, as is its wont, might backfire on the Democrats in the election. Settling for winning by a whisker could result in the Democrats playing the most morose game of Monday Morning Quarterback ever.