While we all tend to look back at the 2008 election and remember the scrappy campaign of Barack Obama overcoming all odds to beat the powerful Clinton machine, the truth includes many more shades of gray. And to suggest that nobody or very few people gave Obama a chance six years ago requires a pretty selective memory.
Here's a little reality check:
1) Clinton was the favorite, but Obama was instantly a player
Here's how top Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett recalled it all in a "Meet the Press" interview airing Sunday: "I mean, my goodness, if we listened to the polls, he would've abandoned the race in the middle of the primary session."
The truth: Basically every major poll conducted after the 2006 election showed Obama in second place for the Democratic nomination. Many of them showed him down by double digits, yes, but he was hardly out of contention by any stretch of the imagination.
Politicians and their supporters are great at recalling that time everyone counted them out -- even if it never technically happened.
There were definitely doubters with Obama, but it's not like he was this nobody coming on to the political scene. He had delivered a rousing speech to the 2004 Democratic National Convention, and some early polls even showed him within 11 or 12 points of Clinton -- before he even announced his campaign in February 2007.
- Gallup poll, November 2006: Clinton 31, Obama 19
- CNN/Opinion Research, November 2006: Clinton 35, Obama 15
- Gallup, December 2006: Clinton 33, Obama 20
- Gallup, January 2007: Clinton 29, Obama 18
- WaPo/ABC, January 2007: Clinton 41, Obama 17
- Time, January 2007: Clinton 40, Obama 21
That WaPo-ABC poll even showed three-fourths of Americans knew Obama well enough to rate his favorability, and they liked him: 45 percent favorable, 29 percent unfavorable.
True, all of these polls showed Clinton up by double digits. But anybody who thinks an 11- or even a 20-point lead a year before the first primaries is insurmountable probably doesn't know much about politics.
2) In 2008, the inevitability thing wasn't really much of a thing
Going back to 2006 and 2007, we could find very little evidence of anybody publicly calling Clinton the "inevitable" nominee. Here's what we found when we searched in LexisNexis for "Hillary Clinton" and "inevitable":
- The Boston Globe's Joan Vennochi, in March 2005: "So, case closed? No other Democrats need apply? That is ridiculous."
- Michael Reagan, in December 2006: "The common wisdom holds that it is all but inevitable that Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic presidential nominee in 2008, and that she'll be a formidable if not unbeatable candidate."
- Fox News's Brian Wilson, in February 2007: "There was a piece, I forget where, saying that Republicans think that the nomination of Hillary is inevitable. I don't think they believe that."
- TNR's Jonathan Chait, in February 2007: "But is Clinton really the front-runner for the nomination? Only if you look about one inch deep. So before we cancel the primaries, it's worth exploring how this wisdom came into circulation."
So basically there were maybe a few examples of people suggesting she might be inevitable, and slightly more people ascribing that view to unnamed other people (who might or might not have existed or been willing to speak on the record).
And then came the New York Times's Adam Nagourney, in April 2007:
"For Senator Clinton, Democrat of New York, the situation is not so seemingly dire, but any hope she had of Democrats embracing her candidacy as inevitable has been dashed by the rise of Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, the continued strength of John Edwards of North Carolina, and obvious discomfort in some Democratic quarters of putting another Clinton in the White House."
That's right, as of April 2007, just two months after Obama launched his campaign, whatever inevitability bubble existed had pretty much burst. What would follow was a whole bunch of hand-wringing about how some of those people had declared the primary over way too early.
All despite the fact that there is very little evidence that those people were anything amounting to a chorus.
3) It wasn't just Obama
Whatever you thought about Obama, he wasn't the only non-Clinton candidate who was formidable in 2008.
You also had the former Democratic vice presidential nominee, John Edwards, as well as longtime and well-respected senators like Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and Joe Biden (D-Del.) and former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson (D). None of the last three ever got much traction (and we all remember what happened to Edwards), but they were all more established figures than we see potentially running against Clinton this time around.
So even if it wasn't Obama going toe-to-toe with Clinton, there were others there who at least seemed like plausible contenders.
In the 2016 field, there is considerably less of that. While Biden is certainly going to get some support if he runs, few see him as nominee material. And beyond him, it's basically Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley and a bunch of people who either swear they aren't running (Elizabeth Warren, Andrew Cuomo) or quite simply aren't on the political level of an Edwards, a Dodd or even a Richardson.
Don't get us wrong, we think it's foolish to declare anybody inevitable this early -- in the primary or the general election -- and we've argued this before.
But comparing Clinton's supposed inevitability in 2016 to 2008 isn't an apples-to-apples comparison. Not by a long shot.