Hillary Rodham Clinton leapt into the 2016 White House contest Sunday, immediately assuming front-runner status for the Democratic nomination as she makes a second bid to become America’s first female president.
“I’m running for president,” Clinton said in a short video her campaign released Sunday afternoon. “Everyday Americans need a champion, and I want to be that champion.”
Clinton, 67, struck a populist tone in her brief message to supporters, channeling Senator Elizabeth Warren, the Massachusetts Democrat, and the progressive wing of the party.
“Americans have fought their way back from tough economic times,” Clinton said. “But the deck is still stacked in favor of those at the top.”
A former first lady, US senator from New York, and secretary of state, Clinton has one of the best-known names in American politics. It is also one of the most divisive, the result of nearly a quarter-century of political battles. They have included substantive ones about health care and foreign policy and the salacious scandal about an extramarital affair that her husband, former President Bill Clinton, had while in office.
Hillary Clinton’s video focused firmly on the future, highlighting people from demographic categories that make up the Democratic coalition: blue-collar workers, a gay couple, a Hispanic mother, an African-American couple. All expressed excitement about the next phase of their lives. Clinton’s face and voice did not appear until more than halfway through the roughly two-minute video.
Shortly after announcing, Clinton boarded a van and embarked on a road trip to Iowa. She tweeted a photo of herself from the voyage. “Met a great family when we stopped this afternoon,” she wrote.
Clinton’s trip excited one target audience: Iowa’s early primary and caucus state activists, who will play a critical role in getting the Democratic base fired up about another Clinton candidacy.
“It was phenomenal,” gushed Kevin Geiken, a Democratic strategist who stepped out of a fund-raiser in Mason City, Iowa, to watch the announcement on his phone. “You feel like you are represented in the video. It showed that she really understood what is happening here.”
Clinton’s front-runner status gives the Republican Party a clear target for attacks. Jeb Bush, the Republican poll leader, offered a “pre-buttal” video hours before Clinton released hers.
“It’s critical we change the direction our country is heading,” he said in a campaign-style message that sought to tie Clinton to the current president. “We must do better than the Obama-Clinton foreign policy.”
Clinton’s decision to run for president in 2016 had been predicted for years. Since she left her job as the country’s top diplomat in 2013, she has made speeches for money while seeking to reintroduce herself to the American public as a grandmother who remembers her middle-class and suburban Chicago roots.
In her last presidential campaign, Clinton also announced her candidacy via a brief online video. That time Clinton also immediately assumed the front-runner mantle. However, even as she launched that campaign, she was already losing ground to Barack Obama, then a freshman senator from her home state of Illinois who ran to her left.
This time Clinton faces far less competition so far. Warren, another freshman senator who could pose a threat from the left, has said that she is not going to run. Vice President Joe Biden has done little in early primary and caucus states to prepare for a possible run.
Moreover, the overwhelming losses Democrats suffered in the 2014 midterms left party leaders with little appetite for a drawn-out nomination flight.
“The prospect of a Republican president with a Republican House and Senate is enough to make even Hillary Clinton’s most ardent critics within the Democratic Party rally around her,” said Joe Trippi, a Democratic strategist who was 2004 Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean’s campaign manager.
Jim Webb, the former Virginia senator who is also mulling a run for the Democratic nomination, declined to comment on Clinton’s announcement.
“We are not focused on any of that,” Webb said after speaking at an event in Iowa.
Lis Smith, a spokeswoman for potential candidate Martin O’Malley, said in a statement that the former Maryland governor will make a decision about whether to run “regardless of what other people decide to do.”
The Republican field contrasts that of the Democrats, with about a dozen credible candidates eyeing the race or openly competing. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida plans to launch his presidential campaign on Monday with a speech in Miami. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas declared his run in a revival-style speech in Virginia. Bush, the former Florida governor, is also raising money for a presidential run.
The lopsided dynamic provides Clinton with a built-in advantage: She can spend time introducing herself and reserve cash while candidates in the Republican field bloody one another.
“History is pretty clear that the candidate with the easier path to the nomination is the candidate best positioned to win in the fall,” said Chris Lehane, a Democratic strategist.
Clinton, he said, can use this time talking about the central issue of her candidacy — which she has signaled will be bolstering the middle class, which has seen years of wage stagnation. After she develops the message, Lehane said, she will have the advantage of months to “burn it in with voters.”
There is a downside to her front-runner status.
Clinton must avoid self-inflicted errors, for example. The national tour for her book “Hard Choices” last year was marred by gaffs that left Democratic insiders nervous she could “implode.” They included an interview in which she said she was “dead broke” after leaving the White House even though the family bought two homes with seven-figure price tags.
She has also been dogged by questions about her family’s network of charities, which raised money from foreign governments and US companies with interests before the State Department while she was secretary of state. Sunday, Clinton Foundation officials confirmed she is leaving the board of the organization.
Separately, she has drawn flak from some in her own party for a robust paid speaking schedule from which she commanded $200,000 fees to address public universities, nonprofits, and trade associations.
Most recently, Clinton disclosed that she exclusively used a private e-mail address connected to a server located in her New York home while she was secretary of state. She deleted 30,000 of those messages. She turned over the rest, about 30,000, to the State Department, which plans to post them online after a review.
The timing of the campaign announcement, just at the beginning of the year’s second quarter, gives supporters nearly three months to raise money before reporting dollar totals. This presidential election will be the first time both parties fully embraced big money politics for an open seat, and it is expected to exceed the $2.3 billion spent by both sides in the last one.
Annie Linskey can be reached at email@example.com.