As the national political world has been buzzing to itself on the daily scandal stories about Hillary Clinton, Kurt Schrader has not been impressed.
“I think it’s an indication of desperation,” commented the congressman from Canby last week, “that the worst thing they can say about her is that she used the wrong email account.
“I don’t think the American people are tuned into that.”
Even with heavy voting by Information Technology departments.
If that’s the worst thing anyone can say about Hillary Clinton, the best thing that Schrader can say about her is that she should be the next president. Schrader was the first member of the Oregon congressional delegation to endorse in next year’s race, and he has particular reasons for his choice.
“I definitely think that Hillary could help unite the country, with the Democratic Party moving to the middle,” says Schrader, one of Congress’s few surviving moderate Blue Dog Democrats.
“The middle is wide open right now.”
To Schrader, that’s largely because the Republican presidential hopefuls, arranged in rows, are in a headlong race to the right, many of them abandoning even previously held positions such as support for Common Cause testing. But it’s also because he thinks Clinton could recapture for his party “a lot of the traditional base of what I would call the lunch-bucket Democrats.”
Her appeal, Schrader argues, would be a correction to recent Democratic messages – which he considers “anti-business, about taking things away from people to give them to other people” – a posture that he thinks led to the party disaster of 2014.
By contrast, Schrader sees Clinton as bringing the strengths of her primary campaign in 2008, “when regular men and women came flocking to her banner.” Since then, he thinks she’s done “a very good job as secretary of state,” giving her experience that no other candidate in either party has.
But it’s not that Schrader sees Clinton as the candidate of his particular wing of the party. “She is the one candidate Democrats have that can unite the party,” he says. “She’ll have the Blue Dogs, the progressives, Hispanics and people from the CBC,” the Congressional Black Caucus.
For a Democratic Party that often subdivides like a housing developer, it seems a sweeping claim. But the congressional figures who have joined Schrader in endorsing Clinton this early in the race – close to half the party’s membership in Congress – do indeed cut across the party’s existing divisions.
Besides Schrader’s fellow Blue Dog chairman, Jim Cooper of Tennessee, Clinton has the support of numerous members of the House Progressive Caucus, although its chairmen have held off. Co-chair Raul Grijalva of Arizona has said that he would be happy to support her, but his office says it’s not an official endorsement.
Clinton has been endorsed by Hispanic House members and at least 10 members of the Congressional Black Caucus. Last week, the National Journal reported that more than 100 congressional Democrats have endorsed Clinton, far beyond her position at this point in the 2008 campaign.
Regionally, although Schrader is the only Oregon in Congress to make an endorsement, Clinton has been backed by four House members from Washington, led by Jim McDermott of Seattle, who is also active in the Progressive Caucus. She’s also been endorsed by both senators from Washington, as well as both senators from California, part of her support from Democratic women senators, who all signed a letter urging her to run.
Oregon’s senators seem unlikely to join them, or Schrader, in endorsing soon. “I don’t think now is the time for a formal endorsement, but I’m supportive of Hillary Clinton,” explained Ron Wyden last week.
“At this point, (Clinton) has not been willing to address some big issues,” such as inequality, money in politics and global trade, said Sen. Jeff Merkley more pointedly. “Until I hear on those, I won’t be endorsing anyone.”
To Schrader, coming from a swing district and a different place in the party than Merkley, Clinton’s position has a different appeal. “Compared to Hillary Clinton 25 years ago,” he thinks, “she’s grown up and moderated.”
Looking to 2016, Schrader sees another point of particular interest to his mid-Willamette Valley 5th district.
“Republicans are continuing to slap Hispanic voters in the face,” says Schrader. “I don’t see how they have a chance.”
Besides a wide range of official congressional support, extending from Blue Dogs to the Progressive Caucus to most Democratic senators, Hillary Clinton has another clear advantage:
No Democrat in Congress has endorsed anybody else.
NOTE: This column appeared in The Sunday Oregonian, 6/7/15.