ON SUNDAY, putting an end to the biggest open secret in American politics, Hillary Rodham Clinton — are we back to using the middle name again? — announced the start of her 2016 campaign for the White House, her second bid for the presidency. “I’m running for president,” she said in a brief announcement video. “Everyday Americans need a champion. And I want to be that champion,” Mrs. Clinton said. “So I’m hitting the road to earn your vote — because it’s your time. And I hope you’ll join me on this journey.”
With the announcement, the former first lady, senator and secretary of state instantly moved to the top of the leaderboard of Democratic prospects for the White House, a lofty perch so far before the election.
Clinton hit the ground running, following her announcement with an almost immediate departure for the state of Iowa, part of a tour (New Hampshire will be next) meant to reconnect her with long-term loyal Democrats and introduce her to younger voters who know more about her than the guy she’s married to. You know, that president dude.
The thrust of her campaign — enhancing the economic fortunes of millions of middle-class Americans struggling not to fall out of the middle class — will give her a chance to break down the lingering sense of Clinton as elitist, imperious and a bought-and-sold politician whose officialist past makes her, for many Americans, as much problem as solution.
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In a political culture enamored of the new, and almost 19 months before the 2016 election, Clinton has to keep her persona and her message fresh and inviting. Her public persona, of course, precedes her by years; the message she brings to the campaign and how well it resonates with voters remains to be seen.
It’ll be important for her to stake out philosophical territory that’s hers alone, to come up with policy prescriptions that aren’t cookie-cuttered or patchworked from other candidates.
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And Clinton has to stay fully engaged in a race that, in real terms, hasn’t even begun, at least on the Democratic side. The expected parade of potential Democratic rivals for the nomination hasn’t even started, since her possible fellow contenders have been waiting for Clinton to make her move.
Clinton has to resist the huge temptation to portray herself and her campaign in a light of anything close to inevitability, a mindset that can infect the larger, more well-capitalized venture. This issue crippled her in 2008. By accident or by design, her '08 bid for the Oval Office was hampered by a persistent sense that she thought she was the bell cow, the only Democratic candidate in the race with viability (or the only one worth paying attention to).
A little-known senator named Barack Obama disabused her of that nation, and fast. It was a mistake she’d be well-advised not to repeat.
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THE COMING campaign will be the last best chance for Clinton to fully establish herself as a leader, defining her brand of statecraft permanently in the American experience.
The milestone of gender that her campaign, and possibly her presidency, represents both works for and against her. There’s no question that our national politics would be better informed — more intuitive, less historically reflexive, presumably more enlightened by nuance and negotiation — with a feminine perspective in the Oval Office. In this, a Hillary Clinton presidency would in and of itself be a welcome departure from the past.
But there are already many in the Hillary camp who view her possible ascension to the White House in the context of an absolute timetable. You’ve heard their rallying cry: “It’s time for a woman to be president!”
Yes and no. It was time for a woman to be president in 2008. After many hard lessons on the trail, Clinton’s campaign from that year had to confront political realities — the same realities she has to face down again: 2008 was, and 2016 will be, prime time — the perfect time — for the right woman to be president.