Hillary Clinton, the most favored non-incumbent presidential candidate in memory, enters the 2016 Democratic presidential sweepstakes tomorrow in what will be the real beginning of the presidential cycle.
She has become a prohibitive favorite and cleared the Democratic field simply by saying she was seriously considering a race for the nomination she has coveted since 2008, when she was a huge front-runner but ultimately stumbled by treating the run for the nomination more like a coronation than a campaign.
This time, she intends to go back to the future, reviving the successful strategy that fueled her 2000 campaign for U.S. Senate in New York, rather than the mess that was her 2008 effort.
After announcing via video on the Internet, she intends to embark on a sort of `listening tour’ – a reprise of her 2000 senate trope – by meeting in small groups with voters in such early caucus and primary states as Iowa and New Hampshire.
Dan Balz, the Washington Post’s political guru, as usual, asks all the right questions in assessing Clinton’s campaign. He writes that ``every statement, gesture, laugh, facial expression and interaction with voters will be put under a microscope the likes of which few, if any, previous candidates have experienced.’’
Balz says two questions hover over her candidacy. ``Why does she want to be president? And will voters find her honest, authentic and empathetic enough to entrust her with their futures?’’
If experience is uppermost in voters’ minds, Clinton is uniquely qualified. ``She is a fully formed politician, with a lengthy resume of accomplishments and considerable baggage from a lifetime of political battles,’’ says Balz aptly.
Yet, a slice of the Democratic base of liberals and progressives don’t trust Clinton. Her hawkish foreign policies and senate vote to allow George W. Bush to carry out the Iraq War grate on elements in the party who are fed up with bloated defense spending and worry that a Clinton presidency would led to a Pax Americana-style foreign policy and more misguided foreign military misadventures like Iraq.
On domestic issues, many on left of the fractious Democratic coalition have concerns about the economic policies of she and her husband Bill Clinton, whose presidency was famously close to Wall Street and policies, such as the repeal of Glass-Steagall, that contributed to the nation’s economic collapse. Then there is the small-bore incremental thinking both Clintons has long followed.
Some candidate will emerge to challenge Clinton from the progressive segment of her party, but so far there is no one with anywhere the charisma, money, eloquence, consultants or smarts of Barack Obama and the campaign team that defeated Clinton in 2008. The liberal dream of Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren running is not going to happen.
Former Rhode Island governor and U.S. senator Lincoln Chafee has hopped into the fray, launching a campaign that caught even longtime supporters by surprise. He is an earnest candidate of conviction who voted against the Iraq mess when he as a senator. Chafee seeks to run to the left of Clinton, but he has scant experience in national politics. He lacks communication skills and hasn’t lined up the consultant and fund-raising heft that so matters in presidential politics these days. It will be interesting to see if the seasoned political reporters nationally and the early states treat him more fairly than many Rhode Island media outlets did during his governorship. (Chafee's style and quirks were most often given more attention that his ideas, especially from the state largest newspaper).
Vermont’s witty, excitable independent U.S. Senator, the left-leaning Bernie Sanders, is also a likely candidate. He brings a far bigger national following among the liberal base and the kind of lefties who read the Nation. And he has a national fund-raising base, even if he lacks the personal wealth of Chafee and his wife, former R.I. First Lady Stephanie Danforth Chafee.
Sanders has also been planning this quest for months, some would say years, and has already signed on veteran political consultant Tad Devine and made prospecting trips to New Hampshire and Iowa. In new agey Vermont, Sanders politics and persona have long been popular, but one wonders how his often irascible nature and fingernails-on-the chalkboard Brooklyn accent will play in Davenport and De Moines.
Another candidate who will probably get in the Democratic race is former U.S. Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia, who like Chafee, is a Republican-turned-Democrat. The Washington Post’s Chris Cilizza is on the right track when he says that Webb, Chafee and Sanders are long shots who so far don't have the ``kind of appeal you need to actually, you know, win.’’
Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley will probably try to occupy the anti-Clinton territory that is open due Warren’s refusal to run. O’Malley is a well-schooled politician who could make Clinton’s life miserable if he is willing to focus on her negatives. Still it is difficult to envision his path to victory.
One of Clinton’s highest hurdles will be the perception that after so many years in politics and in her husband’s orbit, she is the ultimate Washington, D.C. insider at a time when so many Americans are sick of the gridlock and nonsense they see every day in American politics. How Clinton deals with this may be her existential challenge.
Then there are the complaints of voters across the political spectrum as the parade begins to form for the 2016 presidential election: In a country of 330 million people, can’t we turn the page from another Bush-Clinton presidential campaign that many fear will be little more than an unenlightening mud bath financed by zillionaires in both camps.
For Democrats, an overarching issue may be what happens if Clinton falters? Which candidate would the party turn to. Joe Biden is still around, of course, but he is old, bruised and a big a creature of Washington as Clinton. But at this point, that is a bridge most party poobahs don't think they will have to cross.