Hillary Clinton: 'I'm in to Win'
New York Sen. Hillary Clinton's announcement this morning that she is forming a presidential exploratory committee was marked by trademark Clintonesque boldness. "I'm in," began her email to supporters, sent around 9:25 this morning, "And I'm in to win."
But if her announcement signaled the start of what is expected to be a take-no-prisoner's style presidential bid, it was also noteworthy for being framed as the start of a national conversation between Clinton and the country. The subject line in her email to supporters this morning was "Let the conversation begin."
"I want you to join me not just for the campaign but for a conversation about the future of our country," the message said. An announcement video posted to Clinton's campaign web site had the former first lady casually seated on the end of a sofa, her elbow propped up on a pillow. "Let's talk, let's chat," she said, inviting viewers to join her for three nights of conversations via her web site beginning this Monday, during which she will answer questions submitted by voters. "While I can't visit everyone's living room," Sen. Clinton said, "I can try."
The pledge to strike up intimate conversations with individual American voters was a stark reminder that, for all of Sen. Clinton's advantages over her challengers in the race to win the Democratic nominationincluding first hand experience on two successful presidential campaigns (her husband's), an unrivaled network of donors (she raised nearly $40 million last year for her Senate reelection in New York, though she faced token opposition), and a sprawling campaign organization populated by some of the most talented and loyal staffers in the partyshe faces a major disadvantage in that so many Americans have a deeply negative opinion of her. A Financial Dynamics poll released this month showed that 43 percent of Americans have an unfavorable view of Clinton, with most of those respondents holding a "strongly unfavorable" view.
Clinton's aides feel that the way to break through those high unfavorables is to have the Senator reintroduce herself on her own terms, circumventing the news media, in as personal a setting as the national stage allows. Next week's online web chats are an early attempt to do that.
The challenge Clinton faces in connecting to voters on a personal level was probably compounded by last week's entry of Illinois Sen. Barack Obama into the presidential fray. Obama, a naturally charismatic candidate who voters are still getting to know, has unfavorable ratings that are less than half that of Clinton's. ("I welcome her and all the candidates, not as competitors, but as allies in the work of getting our country back on track," Obama said in a statement after Clinton's announcement.)
Indeed, while many Democrat Party operatives and independent analysts still consider Clinton to be the frontrunner in the Democratic field that includes more than a half dozen candidates, recent weeks have exposed her vulnerabilities, suggesting she will have a hard-fought race rather than a nomination by anointment. A poll of Iowa Democratic caucus voters released last week by Zogby International found that former Senator John Edwards maintains a double digit lead, while a Zogby poll of Democrats in New Hampshire, site of 2008's first presidential primary, showed Clinton trailing Obama.
Obama and Edwards both appear to be benefiting from the party's vehemently anti-war base, with across-the-board party support for the Iraq war tumbling into single digits in the last couple of years. Edwards has renounced his vote in the Senate to authorize the Iraq war, while Obamawho wasn't elected to the Senate until 2004, well after the authorization voteopposed the war from the outset. Clinton hasn't unequivocally renounced her war authorization vote, though she has hinted that she would have voted differently knowing that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Returning from a trip to Iraq last week, Clinton introduced a proposal that would let Congress cap the number of troops in Iraq at current levels and would tie funding of the war to certain benchmarks.
"The question for Clinton now is what her 'separation issue,' will be" says University of Maryland political scientist Tom Schaller. "Edwards has the poverty issue, and [Al] Gore, though he's not in the race, has global warming. It's about product differentiation."
But if this morning's announcement is any indication, Clinton's first priority is to put a fresh face on product that the public has long been familiar with.