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Hillary's New Pitch: "no Surprises"

Johnston, Iowa-- Hillary just held an extraordinary press conference here after taping an interview with Iowa public television in which she introduced a provocative new theme to her candidacy: "[T]here are no surprises." I didn't catch the taping itself, only the presser, but Ben Smith has the money quote:

"I’ve been tested, I’ve been vetted," she said. "There are no surprises. There’s not going to be anybody saying, 'I didn’t think of that, my goodness, what’s that going to mean?'"

"I'm a known quantity," she added at the press conference, at which she recieved the endorsement of Iowa Democratic Congressman Leonard Boswell. "We need to nominate a candidate who can win." This threw the media into a low-grade frenzy. Hillary smiled with the patience of a grandmother stuck babysitting bratty kids as reporters barraged her with breathless questions about whether Obama's drug history is the sort of surprise she's talking about and whether she thinks general-election voters might punish him for it.

But Hillary wasn't biting. "I am only talking about myself," she insisted, looking unusually resplendent in a dark suit with a red blouse and multicolored necklace. Nor would she bite when asked by MSNBC's David Shuster whether she would flatly declare that "a candidate's indescretions as a teenager should not be an issue for voters." After what I sensed was a moment of uncertainty she concluded, "It's certainly not an issue in my campaign."

Hillary's cool mien only really wavered once, when she was asked about her own experiences with drugs and--given that we already know she avoided them--the basis for her decision-making about them. A peevish look crossed Hillary's face as her press secretary, Jay Carson, audibly chortled with disdain. Hillary said she had already answered those questions: "I refer you to everything I've said in the past."

We're into very interesting territory here. After forcing Billy Shaheen out of her campaign, Hillary has now pivoted to a "no surprises" argument which at least seems to spring directly from the Obama-cocaine talk--and is certain to keep that talk alive. This also represents an important new campaign theme for Hillary. For most of the past year her candidacy has been premised on her experience. Now she's making electability a central issue.

Intuitively, such a pivot might seem dangerous, given that Hillary's divisiveness has always troubled Democrats. But this week's New York Times-CBS poll found that 63 percent of Democratic voters consider her the most electable candidate--a fact the campaign flagged in a recent conference call. Maybe Team Hillary now sees electability as their path back towards the nomination. Unfortunately for Obama, it could be an ugly one. 

--Michael Crowley