David Hoppe

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:: Carson’s Clinton endorsement

Early adopter or late bloomer?

by David Hoppe

I guess my only question for Rep. Andre Carson is: What took you so long?

Carson endorsed Hillary Clinton for president over the weekend. Mentioning that Carson was an early supporter of then-candidate Barack Obama in 2008, the Star’s Maureen Groppe made it seem as if Congressman Carson was sticking his neck out by backing Clinton during this soggy, sweltering 2015 July.

The congressman played along. According to Groppe: “’I think instinctively,’ the Indianapolis Democrat said of his early presidential endorsements.”

The only hitch in this jolly helping of self-congratulation is that the Clinton Express left the station some time ago. The Hill reported on April 15 that Clinton had already been endorsed by no less than 115 Congressional Democrats, or nearly half of all Democrats in Congress — including 85 of Carson’s fellow Dems in the House of Representatives.

Seen in this light, Carson’s endorsement is less a leap of faith than acceptance of the inevitable.

So what’s all this about Carson’s instincts?

Maybe it’s about Carson trying to keep his powder dry for as long as he dared.

What started as Hillary Clinton’s greatest advantage — her mighty reservoir of elite connections, access to funds, and recognition as “the most famous woman in America” — has turned out to be a mixed blessing. While it made her the clear favorite to corral her party’s nomination, it has also threatened to infuse the Democratic race with a risky dose of apathy.

Fans of Clinton’s supposed challengers, Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley, will dutifully dispute this. But it seems doubtful that the crowds Sanders is attracting so far are drawn as much to what they see as his electability as to his willingness to speak plainly about real issues, particularly the country’s increasingly lopsided distribution of wealth.

In terms of practical politics, the appearance of Sanders and O’Malley is, in fact, a blessing for Clinton. While neither one can beat her, between them they can provide her with the permission she needs to oil her decidedly creaky progressive credentials.

Even more important, to the extent that they are able, Clinton’s challengers can invest what appears to be a done deal with a little suspense.

Suspense — not knowing what will happen, yet having an emotional stake in the outcome — isn’t just for thrillers. It also plays a big part in our politics, especially when it comes to getting and keeping the attention of potential voters, independents and Millennials, in particular.

As a candidate bidding to become this country’s first woman president, Clinton should be able to capture voters’ collective imagination. But over-familiarity with her family’s political brand, coupled with the sense that her candidacy may be less about new ideas than a failure of imagination by the Democratic Party, risks putting voters to sleep.

I wonder if this is why Rep. Carson took his time in finally joining Clinton’s camp. If he’d been as early to endorse as most of his congressional colleagues, no one would have cared.