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'Double Down' authors offer insights that could play out in '16

Posted: December 1, 2013 - 12:05am

ATLANTA — Two Washington political journalists who have just released their second book about presidential campaigns have some observations that might become prophetic in terms of the 2016 election.

Mark Halperin, the senior political analyst for Time magazine and MSNBC, and John Heilemann, writer for New York magazine, conducted more than 400 interviews for Double Down, their sequel to Game Change. The first was the inside story of the 2008 election featuring the first woman and first black presidential candidates with a serious shot and the tactical move to name an unknown firebrand Alaskan governor as vice presidential nominee, all of which led to the title.

Double Down, of course, is about President Obama’s re-election. On Friday, the pair spoke and took questions at the Atlanta Press Club.

Asked if Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden would become the president’s choice, Halperin observed that Obama isn’t like his immediate predecessors in terms of politics.

“The current president, as say compared to a Bill Clinton or even a George Bush, does not care nearly as much about party building or who his successor will be,” Halperin said. “He’s much more focused on his own life. People can be critical of that or not, but that is the reality.”

He predicted Obama wouldn’t personally try to anoint an heir apparent. Nevertheless, most of the Democratic establishment inside the White House and out has already pledged allegiance to the former secretary of state and first lady.

It became clear to the vice president during the re-election campaign that he wasn’t part of the Obama inner circle, as the new book points out. Obama would endorse Biden out of loyalty if Clinton passes up the chance to run again.

Heilemann notes that if Clinton does run, she’s no shoo-in. Rarely do political parties hold on to the White House for three consecutive terms.

“Hillary Clinton will be a fairly old lady when she runs,” he said. “I think she’ll win the nomination if she runs quite easily, but the country has not elected Mrs. Reagan. And generally, the youth culture becomes more powerful. Going from someone like President Obama to a somewhat older generation – and whether the country will ever do that in the future – is a very open question.”

No Democrat is going to win automatically, Heilemann said. A weak economy for five straight years with unemployment stuck above 7 percent and a health care law that could be a failure make it an uphill climb for Democrats.

“On the Republican side, there are many talented Republicans who would be a better candidate than Mitt Romney,” Heilemann added.

Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Scott Walker and Paul Ryan are all smart and accomplished politicians, Heilemann said.

In writing Double Down, the authors granted confidentiality to enough insiders to get the gossipy anecdotes political junkies will eat up. But they also gained an appreciation for the mechanics of campaign strategy, and that makes their observations about what could happen in the next campaign interesting.

(Walter Jones is the Atlanta bureau chief for Morris News Service. Contact him at walter.jones@morris.com and (404) 589-8424.

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