Will Hillary be to Obama what Hick was to Ritter?

Somewhere out there, huddled in an oversized Washington, D.C., living room, an oak-paneled New York board room or perhaps even in the Secretary of State’s main conference room, a gaggle of Hillary Clinton’s closest advisers are scheming over an idea that, just weeks ago, was wholly unthinkable, to even the most flagrant of Clinton partisans: How do we get Obama out and Hillary in?

The Clintons are modern day Svengalis, you see. Their political cunning, their ability to read public opinion polls (and tea leaves), their seemingly innate capacity to smell political opportunity and pounce — it is sui generis in our politics.

They are sushi in a political deli full of month-old shish-kebabs.

And when that cunning instinct senses political opportunity — even if it is an opportunity five moves down the political chess board — the Clintons and their cadre of loyalists are never bashful about the pounce.

That’s the thing about the Clintons and their people. No one outmatches them when it comes to smarts — or vainglorious audacity when opportunity presents.

Break some China, step on toes, push under the bus the Leader of the Free World (who also happens to be your boss) — who cares? When the Clintons spot an opportunity to bolster their dynastic ambitions, they are known to act.

That’s the thing about the here and now: You don’t have to be Svengali to see the center-cut opportunity that President Barack Obama’s disastrous presidency potentially serves to Team Hillary.

In the last 60 days, Obama’s presidency has been reduced to a rubble of nothingness.

Liberals deride the president’s weak hand when negotiating with an iron-fisted tea party.

Conservatives in Congress, who themselves were deeply divided over whether to do a deal with the president on the debt ceiling, still managed to win the public-relations fight with Obama over the debt ceiling.

And what of real people in the real world — the kind who vote for president based on whether the nation is better off than it was four years ago? What do they think of the man presiding over the nation as our credit worthiness is questioned, the jobs picture darkens and the stock market is more chaotic than Charlie Sheen after a carton of cigarettes and a half dozen Mountain Dews?

What should voters think of a president who meets news of the evaporation of more than a trillion dollars in American wealth with a press conference announcing that he is raising corporate average fuel economy standards?

Does anyone take this president seriously anymore?

If you believe the public opinion polls, the answer to that question is, not many. Obama’s job ratings have fallen as fast as the price of gold has risen. (There’s a correlation there, by the way. The public is searching desperately for a safe bet in all aspects of life. There is safety in gold, but in Obama there is none.) And thus Obama’s plummeting poll numbers.

A couple years back, a pollster told me that any well-known official seeking re-election — a governor, a U.S. senator or a president — faces an almost-impossible task when his approval ratings are in the low 40 percent range.

When everyone knows you, and 60 percent of everyone thinks you are lousy at your job, the road to 51 percent at the ballot box is daunting.

That’s why a 40 percent job-approval rating is viewed as something of a statistical kill zone — the moment at which an incumbent’s re-election odds are downgraded from “hard sell” to “long shot.”

In the months before Bill Ritter bowed out of his re-election race for Colorado governor, his job approval numbers were consistently in the low 40s — the same statistical kill zone that President Obama finds himself in today.

From that data point, I will let your imagination fill in the blanks.

Whether Hillary Clinton is to Barack Obama what John Hickenlooper was to Bill Ritter remains to be seen. But the similarities here are stark. Like Ritter, Obama has forfeited his base and ceded the center. And, as with Hickenlooper in Colorado, the Democrats have an able electoral alternative waiting eagerly on stage left.

There are a million reasons, of course, why a Democratic “switch” isn’t likely to materialize. But you can bet that hasn’t stopped the Clinton Camp from meeting in that board room or living room just the same. Long odds or not, you can bet they are wrestling with the question — how do we get Obama out and Hillary in?

Josh Penry is a former Colorado Senate Minority leader and a graduate of Grand Junction High School and Mesa State College.


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