WASHINGTON (CNN) – So what are Democrats looking for – change or experience?
Some years, voters are looking for experience. That’s what got Richard Nixon elected in 1968, when the country was in turmoil because of racial violence and the Vietnam War.
Other years, voters are looking for change. That’s what got Jimmy Carter – a one-term governor of Georgia – elected in 1976 after the Watergate scandal.
“I don’t want ‘Bush-Cheney Lite.’ I want a fundamental change,” Illinois Senator and presidential candidate Barack Obama told supporters at a campaign event in Concord, New Hampshire.
Presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton, D-New York, makes the case for her experience. In a recent interview about her foreign policy differences with Obama, the former first lady told CNN’s John King that she knows “diplomacy takes a lot of hard work.”
“I think that Senator Obama does represent change. Senator Clinton has experience,’’ Bill Richardson said in the first Democratic debate in Iowa. The New Mexico governor added, “With me, you get both.’’
Which do Democrats want? They’re not sure.
In a recent CBS News poll of likely Democratic primary voters, 40 percent said experience was more important and 44 percent said new ideas were more important.
But Democrats looking for experience are not unsure which candidate offers it. In the CBS poll, Democrats who preferred experience over fresh ideas supported Clinton by a three-to-one margin – 49 percent for Clinton and 16 percent for Obama.
Senator Obama argues that judgment is more important than experience. “Nobody had more experience than Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney and many of the people on this stage that authorized this war,” Obama said in the latest debate.
He also implied that Clinton’s experience could be seen as baggage. “We’re going to need somebody who can break out of the political patterns that we’ve been in over the last twenty years,” Obama argued.
Clinton’s response? She knows how to handle baggage better than anybody else. “The idea that you’re going to escape the Republican attack machine and not have high negatives by the time they’re through with you, I think, is just missing what’s been going on in American politics for the last 20 years,” Clinton said in the Iowa debate.
But Obama’s not the only candidate challenging Clinton on the change issue.
“Do you believe that compromise, triangulation, will bring about change?” John Edwards asked rhetorically during the July CNN/YouTube debate. “I don’t.”
Clinton seems to be holding her own on the change issue. Among Democrats in the CBS poll looking for a candidate with fresh ideas, 38 percent supported Obama while 35 percent favored Clinton.
This month’s CNN-Opinion Research Corporation poll asked Democrats which candidate they thought would bring needed change. Clinton had a solid lead over both Obama and Edwards – with Clinton, Obama, and Edwards garnering 40, 27, and 15 percent, respectively.
Many Democrats remember the Clinton years fondly. Especially in contrast to the Bush years. “I want to change the cowboy diplomacy of the Bush administration,” Clinton told CNN’s John King. “But I want to do it in a way that I believe will work, that will get results for America,” she added.
Back to the future? That’s one way to talk about change.
The CBS News poll was conducted among a random sample of 1,214 adults nationwide who were interviewed by telephone on August 8-12, 2007. The polls margin of error is plus or minus three percentage points.
—CNN Senior Political Analyst Bill Schneider