US presidency: Hillary Clinton starts in front

First challenge is to raise profile and create a stir during nomination phase

 

The two years of will-she won’t-she run is over. In truth, few imagined that Hillary Clinton would not take a second run at the presidency, but now the gloves are off, and she becomes the first female nominee from either party, with a serious chance of becoming the first woman to be elected president of the United States.

Unlikely to face any serious challenge for the Democratic nomination, Clinton starts out from day one in the lead. The Republicans, riven by internal divisions over a plethora of candidates ranging from far-right evangelical to conservative, are playing catch-up. Not least because the evolving demographics of US politics has seen the rise of a new generation of Democratic-leaning young and non-white voters who have broken the electoral deadlock of the late 1990s and early 2000s . If, that is, they turn out to vote.

The first challenge for Clinton, 19 months out from the general election proper, will be to turn her one-horse race of a Democratic primary contest into a means of raising her profile and creating a stir. She says she will be out listening to voters, engaging with hundreds of small groups in the key states – playing to her strengths. She doesn’t have either her husband’s or Barack Obama’s flair or charisma for the big stage, their sincerity, or way with words. But she has learned to play the small crowd.

The broad themes of the Clinton election strategy are clear – she intends to run from the left of centre, rallying the party’s more liberal grass roots activists, and making helping the middle class and reducing income inequality major themes of her campaign. Her economic message will highlight issues that resonate with women in particular, including a higher minimum wage, paid family and medical leave, early childhood education, and affordable child care.

Although she will avoid talk of “class”, and try to shake off the “friend of Wall Street” tag, the message is clear – that she wants to be “the champion” of “everyday Americans”, the new euphemism for the working class. Above all, she will no longer carry the opprobrium within the party of having supported the Iraq war as she did in 2008.

Polls suggest that Clinton currently enjoiys the support of 60 per cent of Democrats , up eight points on her starting position against Obama. And none of her likeliest opponents from the party – former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley; former Virginia Senator Jim Webb; Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont; and Lincoln Chafee, a former Republican governor of Rhode Island – have either the resources or public standing to take her on effectively. The campaign is expected to cost her some €2.5 billion .

When it comes to facing the Republican nominee, polls show that she currently enjoys double digit leads on the best of the front-runners , although pollsters warn that such figures are to be taken at this stage with a pinch of salt. And yet the Republican primaries are likely if anything to push its candidates further from electability and the middle ground on issuess like immigration reform and education.

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