There wasn’t much surprise in Hillary Clinton’s clinching the Democratic Party nomination last week. She became the party’s de facto candidate for the United States presidency when her delegate count passed the halfway mark. The real surprise in her nomination race has been how she has struggled to defeat her opponent, Bernie Sanders. Mr Sanders, a 74-year-old socialist who joined the party only a few years ago, was seen as marginal a politician as real estate tycoon Donald Trump. Mr Trump has gone on to win the Republican nomination. Mr Sanders has not been so successful, but he has given one of the best-known political names in the US a run for her money. This is a worrying testament to Ms Clinton’s political saleability to the electorate.
The truth is that the Democratic side has been rocked by this election. The original party coalition of white workers, minorities and educated liberal urbanites has seen the first part of this equation swing largely to the Republicans, and formed the core of Mr Trump’s support. Mr Trump reflects this in his economic agenda, which is an anathema to traditional free-market conservatives. Mr Sanders has secured the remnants of that same working-class vote and combined it with educated liberal youngsters. Ms Clinton’s victory has been largely accomplished thanks to the loyalty of Black Americans and Hispanic Americans to her and her husband’s brand name. Ms Clinton has a threefold electoral task on hand. One, she has to ensure a large portion of Mr Sanders’s supporters stay with her. Two, she has to win over the roughly 40% of the electorate who are independents. Finally, she has to ensure that Mr Sanders’ people and the independents actually turn out to vote for her – rather than just stay home. Squaring these circles will not be simple.
The existing matchup polls give Ms Clinton only a slender lead over Mr Trump. The question is the roughly one-fifth of the electorate who remain undecided. Ms Clinton now needs to borrow some of her husband’s talents as a great communicator to convert her natural advantage in the election into feet on the ground and ballots in the box.