Hillary Clinton is currently enjoying high popularity ratings, but she will face serious challenges if she runs for president in 2016, Republican strategists say.
Clinton has nearly universal name recognition, many die-hard supporters, an ability to raise millions of dollars, and access to the political network of her husband, former President Bill Clinton, and her own campaign organization from her unsuccessful 2008 bid for the White House.
As of now, 65 percent of Democrats and Democrat-leaning independents support Clinton for the Democratic nomination, according to the latest Quinnipiac poll. Her closest competitor is Vice President Joe Biden with 13 percent.
"Her image to some extent has moved to the center from where it was when she became a U.S. senator from New York," Republican pollster Ed Goeas says. "She'll be a formidable candidate."
But her critics say she has at least six potential vulnerabilities that she must deal with:
1. Staff: GOP strategists wonder if she will surround herself with admirers and old-school pols or reach out to younger advisers and creative thinkers who can really help her succeed. In 2008, she started out as the overwhelming favorite for her party's nomination, as she is today, but her advisers failed to recognize the importance of winning nominating caucuses in addition to primaries.
Barack Obama ended up dominating those caucuses and defeated her. If she runs, she will need a more savvy team.
2. Temperament: If she seems too angry or brittle, it will revive images of Clinton as unlikable and arrogant. She didn't do herself any favors when she appeared at a congressional hearing in January, while she was secretary of state, and fumed when legislators quizzed her about the fatal attacks that killed four Americans in Benghazi, Libya, last September, including a U.S. ambassador.
A senior Republican strategist told me that one angry riff by Clinton is sure to make an effective negative ad against her. He was referring to her shouting at one point, "With all due respect, the fact is, we had four dead Americans. Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided they'd go kill some Americans? What difference at this point does it make? It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again."
3. Divisiveness: She can be portrayed as preoccupied with women's issues, which she has championed for many years, while less interested in the concerns of men, according to GOP strategists. This could make her look divisive and interested in helping only a portion of the population.
4. Past liberalism: Her stands on some issues, such as health care reform and gay marriage, could be used to paint her as a liberal who is out of the mainstream. This left-of-center reputation has been a serious political problem for Clinton in the past and could be revived, Republican analysts say.
5. Questions about her age and health: Clinton will turn 66 in October, which means she would be 69 if she were elected president in November 2016. This is younger by a year than Ronald Reagan was when he was first elected in 1980, and Reagan did a lot to minimize age stereotypes. But some will wonder if Clinton has the stamina to be commander in chief. A related question could be her health if Clinton exhibits signs of illness or slowing down.
6. Relevance: If voters want a fresh face in 2016, Hillary Clinton would not be their choice. She has been on the national scene for a generation, serving as first lady, U.S. senator from New York, and secretary of state. This is a solid resume but she could be caricatured as part of the past and not the best choice to lead Americans into the future, the Republicans say.
Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog "Ken Walsh's Washington" for usnews.com, and "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He is the author of the new book "Prisoners of the White House: The Isolation of America's Presidents and the Crisis of Leadership." Ken Walsh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and followed on Facebook and Twitter.