Dissecting the Democratic primary with professor Vincent Moscardelli

Democratic presidential candidate, former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley , left, listens to Democratic presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt, speak, during the the NBC, YouTube Democraticpresidential debate at the Gaillard Center, Sunday, Jan. 17, 2016, in Charleston, S.C. (AP)

Professor Vincent Moscardelli of the University of Connecticut, Storrs, offered his early, objective and original insight on the national Democratic presidential primaries to The Daily Campus.

Moscardelli has studied congress, elections and election reform. He is a professor of American government, congressional politics and political leadership at UConn.

When asked about Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders’ recent rise in the polls, Moscardelli chose not to attach too much importance to the phenomenon.

“On the one hand, I’m not surprised because it’s still early and we usually see someone challenge the ‘establishment’ candidate in these early primaries and caucuses,” Moscardelli said. “And of course the people who will be participating in these upcoming events aren’t exactly representative of the rest of the country.”

Professor Vincent Moscardelli of the UConn Political Science department. (Screenshot/UConn Political Science Website)

Professor Vincent Moscardelli of the UConn Political Science department. (Screenshot/UConn Political Science Website)

Moscardelli then cited “conventional wisdom” within political science, which says that the party nominee, for both the Democratic and Republican parties, is usually “preferred by party elites including donors, other office holders, lobbyists, etc.” According to Moscardelli, Hillary Clinton is the establishment candidate who reaps these rewards, usually monetary, which will make a national Sanders win difficult. Moscardelli then hearkened back to 2004 to complete his answer.

“Remember, it wasn’t that long ago that another outsider from Vermont – Howard Dean – looked invincible heading into the early primaries and caucuses,” Moscardelli said. “But in the end, John Kerry, the candidate of the Democratic establishment, pulled away and secured the nomination.”

After being prompted, Moscardelli then tackled the idea that Hillary Clinton is the “inevitable” Democratic nominee for president. He opened with the acknowledgement that, “Any political scientist who tells you he or she can predict the outcome of a primary election with certainty is not being truthful. We’re good at predicting general election outcomes, but we’re not great at predicting the outcomes of presidential primaries.” That being said, Moscardelli put forth his analysis on Clinton’s candidacy. 

Remember, it wasn’t that long ago that another outsider from Vermont – Howard Dean – looked invincible heading into the early primaries and caucuses.
— Professor Vincent Moscardelli

“If the forces that usually determine the outcome of contested primaries – money, organization, support from the party establishment – wind up determining this one, then I would be surprised if Clinton doesn’t eventually win the nomination,” Moscardelli said. “But we should also remember that personality comes into play, and for whatever reason, Hillary Clinton remains a polarizing figure in American politics. That could be her undoing.”

Along these lines, Moscardelli was then asked what a Clinton presidency would look like.

“I think it’s safe to say that we’d be charting new territory if we elected our first female president, so I’m hesitant to draw historical comparisons,” Moscardelli said. “But interestingly, some of the research on leadership style suggests that Hillary Clinton embraces a more traditionally ‘masculine,’ or combative understanding of political power, as opposed to the more stereotypical ‘feminine’ conception of power that’s sometimes referred to as ‘empowerment.’”

To that point, Moscardelli spoke on Clinton’s loss to Barack Obama in 2008.  

“When she (Clinton) ran eight years ago, one of her arguments against then-senator Obama was that he didn’t understand the importance of combat in politics. Remember, as a candidate, Senator Obama presented himself as a bridge-builder – someone who could bring the country together, something candidate Clinton called naïve,” Moscardelli said.  

Obama’s tenure as president is significant to the primaries. With both a Republican-led Congress and Senate, “a Democrat elected in 2016 would face a much more hostile Congress than the one President Obama faced. She (Clinton) might want to adopt a ‘take no prisoners’ approach to presidential leadership, but it’s not clear how well that would serve her in the face of a Congress controlled by Republicans.”

At press time, a RealClearPolitics average of major polls has Bernie Sanders leading the New Hampshire primary polls at 53.3 percent, Clinton trailing at 38.6 percent, and Martin O’Malley bringing up the rear at 2.6 percent.

At press time, a RealClearPolitics average of major polls has Bernie Sanders leading the New Hampshire primary polls at 53.3 percent, Clinton trailing at 38.6 percent, and Martin O’Malley bringing up the rear at 2.6 percent. In the Iowa caucus, the RealClearPolitics average of polls has Clinton leading Sanders by less than one percentage point, 46 percent to 45.4 percent. O’Malley is polling at 4.4 percent in Iowa. On a national level, RealClearPolitics has Clinton leading at 52 percent, Sanders second at 37.4 percent, and O’Malley last at 1.8 percent. 

Sten Spinella is a senior staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at sten.spinella@uconn.edu.