The prolonged preface to Hillary Clinton’s campaign for president has reached its seemingly inevitable conclusion: The former first lady, senator, and secretary of state announced her decision to seek the Democratic nomination for president on Sunday, via a video articulating her rationale for entering the race. This announcement marks her return to politics from a two-year leave of absence.
Meanwhile, behind the scenes, her fundraising machine has begun reaching out to Democrat donors for immediate contributions. Announcing now allows her team more time to gather the funds necessary to make a successful presidential bid.
Her campaign already has weight, and not just because this is her second bid for the White House, or because she is the wife of one of the most admired presidents of the past 25 years. None of the other potential Democratic nominees could claim the same name recognition, except perhaps Joe Biden, and much has been made in recent months of the fact that the party would be strapped for options if she chose not to run. She has popularity; Gallup’s most recent polling shows 79% of Democrats have favorable views of Clinton, with support spread fairly evenly between the more liberal and the more moderate factions of the party. The “Ready for Hillary” SuperPAC has been in motion for 20 months, growing her donor pool to 135,000 members, and for months she has been assembling a campaign-in-waiting. Her candidacy always seemed inevitable. And so the pertinent question is Hillary of 2016 really all that different from the Hillary of 2008?
Here’s a look at the evidence.
1. Clinton is starting her campaign off through social media rather than a huge rally
This was a conscious choice made by Clinton and her team to avoid the one of the mistakes that sunk her 2008 campaign. She went into that race as the heavily favored candidate, but she lost to Barack Obama, partly because she appeared to feel entitled to the nomination and failed to inspire crowds on the campaign trail. This time around, her team has crafted a smaller and more intimate campaign strategy that is modeled on the listening tour she launched at the beginning of her successful 2000 Senate bid. As Democratic advisers told the Washington Post, this will allow voters to experience her humor, humility, and policy expertise. Clinton and her team know she has to be more relatable to the middle class. Drafting a coherent plan for middle class economics will be a key step, but not arriving to appearances in the Hill-a-Copter, a helicopter that cost thousands of dollars a day, will be a huge help.
Clinton’s fundraising efforts will also take a populist turn this time. For now, she is not planning any glitzy high-dollar fundraisers, as her potential opponent Jeb Bush is conducting. In a period of four months, closed-door finance events for his Right to Rise political action committee and super PAC have sold tickets for as much as $100,000. Of course, in modern politics, a populist approach does not mean a low-budget campaign. Clinton is expected to raise as much as $2.5 billion, according to The New York Times.
2. Clinton’s fundraising needs to be different in other ways as well
Clinton needed to time her announcement early enough to maximize her campaign donation collections while not overstaying her welcome in the public spotlight. In 2008, Obama proved to be a stellar fundraiser, and fundraising serves as a proxy of support and enthusiasm within the party. And his donors came from both the wealthy and the far corners of the Democratic base. This ability allowed him to capitalize on his wins in the early primary states of Iowa and South Carolina. Sure, Clinton actually raised more money, but part of her hoard came from a transfer of $10 million from her Senate reelection committee.
3. In 2008, Clinton had problems with both delegates and endorsements
Even though Hillary Clinton won more endorsements than her Democratic rivals, because she was the frontrunner, her total was low by historical standards. That meant the party had not uniformly decided to support Clinton, leaving room for a challenger. By comparison, Clinton began amassing endorsements from top Democrats, like Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii, even before her decision was made public.
— Brian Schatz (@brianschatz) February 2, 2015
Her nascent campaign team has also hired top Obama operatives.
Clinton did win the popular vote in seven of the eight states with the biggest populations, while Obama’s only victory came in his home state of Illinois. But Obama won delegates. Party delegates are the ones that secure the nomination. While rules allow for multiple rounds of balloting and horse trading if no one candidate wins the majority on the first ballot, no nomination convention since 1976 has begun without the identity of the future nominee not assured. Obama’s campaign focused on winning over delegates by organizing in small states and caucuses, and he won 118 delegates to Clinton’s 57. In order to have any shot of unseating Clinton in next year’s election, a Democratic rival would generate massive grassroots support.
4. Hawkishness is a far more tenable position now
Analysts have theorized that Hillary Clinton’s vote to authorize military action in Iraq cost her the Democrat nomination in 2008. She struggled to explain the reason for her vote, while Obama profited off his on-the-record opposition to the invasion. The anti-war speech delivered by Barack Obama in October 2002 made him a favorite of the Democrat party. Beginning by stating that he did not oppose all wars, the then-Senator told those assembled at a Chicago anti-war rally that “after witnessing the carnage and destruction, the dust and the tears” brought on by the September 11 terrorist attacks, “I supported [the Bush] administration’s pledge to hunt down and root out those who would slaughter innocents in the name of intolerance, and I would willingly take up arms myself to prevent such tragedy from happening again.” But, “what I am opposed to is a dumb war,” he said. “What I am opposed to is a rash war.”
On several occasions Clinton has admitted she made the wrong choice. “Obviously, if we knew then what we know now, there wouldn’t have been a vote,” she said in a 2006 interview on NBC’s Today show. “And I certainly wouldn’t have voted that way.”
When Americans went to the polls in 2008, voters expressed their weariness with costly and (to some) unnecessary conflicts. Polls showed ahead of the primaries that 81% of Democrats believed the Iraq war, a war Clinton voted for, was a mistake. Obama’s promise to reduce the United States’ heavy footprint in global conflicts had a huge appeal. As time has passed, and the crises in the Middle East increase and grow more threatening to U.S. interests, the public is more open to Clinton’s hawkishness. Because she served as Obama’s secretary of state during his first term, Clinton cannot criticize his foreign policy as transparently as her Republican opponent will. However, she has already made clear the difference in their world views. Clinton thinks that the Obama administration has been too cautious in its dealings with foreign powers and other adversaries. “Great nations need organizing principles, and ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle,” she told The Atlantic‘s Jeffrey Goldberg in a 2014 interview. And her tenure in the State Department gives her some foreign policy credibility.
If she wins the party’s nomination, Clinton will be the most hawkish Democrat nominee since the Iraq war began. And if she is elected president, it is expected she will take the party in a new direction by pursuing a far more aggressive approach to foreign policy than her predecessor. But the video her campaign released announcing her decision focused not on foreign policy, but economic inequality.
5. Clinton did not look electable in 2008
Even though Obama’s was a relatively new face to the national political scene, polling data showed him performing better in the coming general election against Republican frontrunner John McCain than Clinton, who has been in the public spotlight for several decades. And Obama’s delegate advantage put her in a worse position. If there were lingering doubts among Democrats that Obama was too much of a novice, the polling numbers proved otherwise.
Ever since the 2016 election was but a fuzzy blimp on the horizon, Clinton has been performing well, consistently topping head-to-head polls against all Republican contenders. Of course, these types of general-election polls are not very dependable so many months in advance, frequently reflecting strong name recognition more than anything else. But if Clinton was lagging in these types of polls as she did in 2008, the Democratic leadership would likely be looking to another option and Democratic rivals would sense weakness. So far, she faces scant competition for the Democratic nomination. The only other names the Washington Post places as potential alternates are former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley as first runner up and Vice President Joe Biden in second place, followed by Vermont’s Independent Senator Bernie Sanders, former Virginia senator Jim Webb, and Rhode Island’s former senator and governor, Lincoln Chafee.
Still, Clinton must show voters were she stands. Not only must she differentiate herself from her predecessor and prove her presidency will not be essentially a third Obama term, but she must also fashion herself to be relatable to the middle class. That effort has already begun. As operatives began planning her 2016 campaign, the focus is on, as it has been for most of the past two decades, humanizing Hillary Clinton, showing her to be more than the steely unemotional political machine that she appears as before cameras. That was the goal of her 2000 listening tour, a strategy her team looks to replicate. She herself described the “duality” of her public persona, the Hillary people see and the “real” Hillary, in a 1995 profile in the Daytona Beach News Journal.
The evidence of Clinton’s desire to repackage herself can be found in the new epilogue for the paperback edition of her 2014 memoir Hard Choices, where she teased out possible themes for her campaign. She cast herself more as a mother and grandmother, instead of a politician or a leader, emphasizing how becoming a grandmother to Chelsea’s daughter Charlotte had helped her “see the world in new ways.” The milestone has made her “think deeply about the responsibility we all share as stewards of the world we inherit and will one day pass on,” Clinton wrote. “Rather than make me want to slow down, it has spurred me to speed up.” She also adds: “I was delighted to find that Charlotte’s birth seemed to strike a chord with a lot of Americans,” a blatant acknowledgment of Clinton’s persistent need to humanize herself. These words also show that “the feminine motif will be fully integrated into her persona, her rhetoric, and her platform” in 2016, in the words of Vox chief political correspondent Jonathan Allen.
In closing, Clinton explained just how her granddaughter pushed her took look at the world differently. “You shouldn’t have to be the granddaughter of a President or a Secretary of State to receive excellent health care, education, enrichment, and all the support and advantages that will one day lead to a good job and a successful life,” she writes. “That’s what we want for all our kids. And this isn’t just idealism. It’s a recipe for broadly-shared prosperity and a healthy democracy.” This both humanizers Clinton, and shows her campaign will put an emphasis on middle class prosperity, like Obama.
But while we know a good deal about Hillary Clinton, about what themes will drive her campaign, she will have much explaining to do in coming months, as any presidential wanna-be is required. What does Hillarynomics look like? Will it look like Clintonomics? Her hawkishness and ties to Wall Street will be put under the national microscope. Reporters and TV personalities will question her reversal on gay marriage and her role in Benghazi. She will be criticized for being too moderate, too liberal, too old, and another Clinton. Her ability to serve as president will be questioned because she is a woman, and her positions on women’s rights issues, like equal pay and abortion, will be key although she is attacking that concern head-on by highlighting her femininity as she did in the new Hard Times epilogue.
Follow Meghan on Twitter @MFoley_WSCS
More from Politics Cheat Sheet:
- Your Cheat Sheet to the 2016 Presidential Election
- Hillary’s Path to 2016: How She Got Where She Is Now
- 3 Questions We’d Like to Ask Hillary Clinton
- This Is How Hillary Clinton Would Run the U.S. Economy As President
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