Hillary Clinton Enters With an Edge, and a Long, Long Way to Fall

With her clear path to her party’s nomination, there’s not one candidate in the 2016 field who wouldn’t take Clinton’s place—nor is there one who has more to lose.

Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks at Syracuse Universitys S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications presentation of the Toner Prize for Excellence in Political Reporting in Washington, DC, on March 23, 2015. 
National Journal
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Emily Schultheis
April 12, 2015, 10:57 a.m.

Hillary Clinton has 576 days.

In a Sunday afternoon email to former staffers, campaign chairman John Podesta confirmed that Clinton is running for president—an announcement that ends months of speculation about when, where and how the former secretary of State would officially start a campaign that most have long seen coming.

“It’s official: Hillary’s running for president,” the email read.Clinton’s announcement video, posted to her campaign website and Facebook page shortly after Podesta’s email leaked, begins with voters talking about what they’re getting ready for: a baby, graduating from college, retirement, or getting married.

(RELATED: Hillary Clinton’s Facebook Page Got Thousands of Likes Within Minutes)

Clinton herself doesn’t appear until the last 45 seconds of the video: “I’m getting ready to do something too: I’m running for president,” she says, adding that she will be “hitting the road to earn your vote.”

“Americans have fought their way back from tough economic times but the deck is still stacked in favor of those at the top,” she continues. “Everyday Americans need a champion, and I want to be that champion, so you can do more than just get by—you can get ahead, and stay ahead.”

The announcement follows months in which Clinton—through a string of paid and unpaid public appearances—previewed themes that will likely be the focus of her campaign. She has emphasized women’s issues such as equal pay, paid family leave and affordable child care. She has told stories about her own life and career, never failing to mention that she recently became a grandmother. She’s spoken about the importance of “building relationships” in Washington in order to get things done, while also criticizing Republicans’ “trickle-down” approach to the economy.

Over the first three months of 2015, the former secretary of State, U.S. Senator and First Lady has assembled a campaign team that looks very different than the one that helmed her unsuccessful 2008 bid. While there’s no doubt that her longtime inner circle will be involved in the campaign, Clinton has tapped largely outsiders—many of them Obama campaign veterans—to head her operations.

(RELATED: Hillary Clinton’s Announcement Video Doesn’t Have Much Hillary Clinton)

The campaign will be run by Robby Mook, a former Clinton staffer who’s since worked at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and headed Terry McAuliffe’s gubernatorial campaign in Virginia. Along with Mook, former Obama pollster Joel Benenson and ad maker Jim Margolis will play senior roles in shaping the campaign’s strategy. She’s also hired a team of seasoned and well-respected communications staffers, who will theoretically help Clinton improve her relationship with the national press corps going forward. Clinton’s 2008 campaign was plagued by infighting and drama; its ability to stay drama-free this time around will have a big impact on the strength of her campaign. In a memo distributed to staff at Clinton’s Brooklyn headquarters on Saturday, first reported by Politico, Mook hinted at the desire for a no-drama campaign. “We are a team: we are committed to helping each other succeed to deliver on our core purpose,” the memo said.

Clinton’s challenge going forward will be to keep a campaign schedule that makes it clear she’s not taking the nomination for granted, while at the same time focusing beyond the primary to a general-election message. At this point, Clinton is the first and only declared Democratic candidate in the race; three others, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, have said they are seriously considering bids and may enter the race. Vice President Joe Biden, too, has indicated he shouldn’t be ruled out. And in a surprise move late last week, former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee announced he was forming a presidential exploratory committee, criticizing Clinton’s foreign policy and saying anyone who voted to authorize the Iraq War in 2002 “should not be president.”

Though she remains the overwhelming favorite to win the Democratic nomination, Clinton’s team has indicated that she will focus on the four traditional early primary states: Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada. Mook’s Saturday memo nodded to the campaign’s plan to put in the groundwork in Democratic primary states, saying it “will take nothing for granted.” “We are humble”¦.We are never afraid to lose, we always out-compete and fight for every vote we can win,” the memo continued. Clinton already has staff on the ground in each of those states, and while details of her post-announcement tour have yet to be released, she is expected to visit Iowa and New Hampshire first.

The early round of smaller, more intimate events Clinton is about to embark upon, a shift from the soaring rallies of 2008 and more reminiscent of her 2000 Senate bid, will help refresh her public image and allow her to reconnect with voters. In the two years since she left the State Department, Clinton has kept a fairly sparse public schedule; the combination of that and her high rate for paid speeches—she’s received as much as $300,000 per speech—has given the impression that she’s aloof. With these events, Clinton will have an opportunity to reintroduce herself to voters in a less formal setting.

(RELATED: Hillary Clinton Doesn’t Seem All That Scared of Obamacare)

But the last few months have already demonstrated how, on a campaign, little goes as planned: Clinton begins her campaign after a month of tough headlines over her private email server and foreign donations to the Clinton Foundation. The former senator planned March to be a series of women-focused events at which she road-tested certain parts of her campaign message; instead, she was forced to address concerns over her email account at a press conference in New York eight days after the email story broke. While the headlines have somewhat died down in the wake of the presser, the story will continue to dog Clinton now that she’s an official candidate and Republicans have consistently latched onto the stories.

The sky-high favorability ratings Clinton enjoyed during her four years at the State Department have already come down to earth: an April Bloomberg poll put her favorability at 48 percent, compared with 44 percent who view her unfavorably. During her time as secretary of State, her favorability rose into the 60s.

Still, as of Sunday, with each individual Republican facing a bloody primary en route to their party’s nomination, Clinton enters the race as the single most promising candidate to become the country’s next president on Nov. 8, 2016.

Now she has to deliver on that promise. She 576 days to do it.

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