10 Questions About the Hillary Clinton Campaign
With the Democratic frontrunner due to finally announce her candidacy on Sunday, a few ways to think about her second try at the White House
Enthusiasm. Anxiety. Dread. Resignation. Elation. Relief. However you've been feeling about the launch of Hillary Clinton's campaign, the wait is almost over. All indications point to a launch on Sunday. With several Republicans already in the race or about to declare, the announcement will mark the real kickoff to a race that already feels like it's in full gear.
Despite the long ramp-up, and even though she's been expected to run almost since bowing out of the 2008 nomination battle against Barack Obama, there's a lot we don't know about Hillary Clinton's campaign. Here are a few ways to think about her candidacy over the coming days and weeks.
1. Might as well start with the basics: When is she announcing? Details are still sparse, but everything suggests that the announcement will come on Sunday via a tweet and a video posted while the candidate is en route to Iowa to start the dirty work of campaigning. She reportedly wanted to avoid the spectacle of a huge rally to kick off the campaign—her staff wants to avoid the impression that she's aloof, disconnected from voters, unrelatable. Beneath all that is concern about the impression of inevitability. The Clintonistas are happy for her to be inevitable, but seeming so—that's taboo. Her announcement will likely be followed by a series of small events where she'll try to show her connection with ordinary voters. That allows a contrast from, say, Ted Cruz's huge speech at Liberty University or Rand Paul's lengthy festival of declaration in Louisville.
2. Why is she declaring now? You can sort the reasons into three categories. The first is legal.Politico broke the news last Friday that Clinton had signed the lease on a huge office space in downtown Brooklyn to house her campaign. That signature started the clock for Clinton to comply with Federal Election Committee rules that mandate that someone must file paperwork declaring their candidacy within 15 days of conducting campaign activities. The second is political. When Clinton came under fire for her handling of emails as secretary of state, her response was widely panned—she hesitated to reply, then held a perhaps ill-advised press conference in an imperfect venue with disappointing answers. Democrats panicked and worried that Clinton's problem was that without a campaign apparatus she wasn't ready to reply quickly to attacks—a problem made more urgent by the entrance of Republicans into the race. The third is human. "We just wanted to get this thing over with and get on with it," an adviser told Glenn Thrush. And who can blame them? Her declaration is a surprise to no one except Mike McCurry.
3. What will her campaign be about? This is perhaps the biggest unanswered question. Everyone knew she was running; but why? What will her campaign theme be? Is it about income inequality? Foreign policy? Change? Staying the course? We still don't know. How Clinton will handle the Woman Question is also a subject of much speculation. During the 2008 campaign, shegenerally avoided relying on gender, but her concession speech ("18 million cracks" in the glass ceiling) was hailed as a feminist classic, and the way she's deployed her new grandmotherhood on the trail has given some people the impression that she'll focus on her candidacy as historic and pathbreaking for women. Trying to figure out just how much she'll embrace the populism of the Democratic Party's left is also up in the air.
4. What has she learned since 2008? And does she really want to be president? Forget "Two Americas"; conventional wisdom has settled on a "two Hillarys" theory of the 2008 campaign. Early on, there was Inevitable Hillary, a distant, aloof campaigner who took her nomination for granted and botched it. Later, there was Fighter Hillary, a surprisingly adept retail politician who showed genuine emotion and threw back boilermakers with union men. Besides, her campaign was riven by incredible backbiting, clashing egos, and bad behavior, as Joshua Green reported in The Atlantic.
Some of her early moves this time around have fed an impression that she's back in the first mode. (For a long and excellent dive into Clinton's skills as a campaigner and how much they matter, read Jason Zengerle's New Yorkfeature.) And does she really want this? That question is perhaps inextricable from what her campaign will be about, but Clinton has been headed toward a White House run for so long that one wonders whether she's just doing it automatically. Those close to her who doubted a run questioned whether she still had the fire in her belly, but the declaration alone isn't enough to answer the question.
5. How will Republicans attack her? The gender question is a sensitive one—Republicans will bellyache about her "playing the woman card," but they generally know better than to attack her for it. They want to avoid alienating women, who make up the majority of voters, and after all, one of the peaks of Clinton's popularity was during the Monica Lewinsky scandal. (One exception: Carly Fiorina, the longshot candidate who's been attacking as the chief Clinton critic in the field.) Arguing that a dynastic succession from Bill to Hillary is bad for American democracy might be a good weapon if not for the presence of Rand Paul and Jeb Bush in the GOP field. Some will try to turn foreign policy, a putative strength, against Clinton, focusing on her role in Obama's unpopular conduct of foreign affairs. Right now, the most powerful line appears to be on honesty—Rand Paul is already promising to make it his focus, and while her favorability was always bound to sink once she jumped in, trustworthiness already seems to be a factor in her declining polling.
6. Are there any skeletons left in the closet? Surely, there's nothing more left to learn about Clinton, right? After two terms in the White House as first lady, two Senate campaigns, a confirmation for secretary of state, and the aftermath, can anyone turn up more dirt? Is there a Chappaqua Project to echothe Arkansas Project? Democrats hope she's been fully vetted and those worries are put to bed, but the answer likely rests first with the ongoing investigation into the September 11, 2012, attacks in Benghazi, and on the management and donors of the Clinton Foundation.
7. What role will Bill play? No other campaign possesses a single asset as valuable as the former president, but no asset is as likely to self-destruct, either. Figuring out how to manage Bill Clinton, how to deploy his political talents—as both strategist and stumper—and how to avoid the dangerous gaffes he committed in 2008 are signal challenges. A New York Times report in Marchsuggested he'd be largely hidden; Politico reported Friday that he's been pushing back on that story fiercely in private. At the very least, those mixed messages aren't encouraging signs that a lasting solution has been found.
8. Will she get a credible challenger? Martin O'Malley is a talented and accomplished politician, but if his campaign so far is the stiffest competition that Clinton gets in the primary, she looks to be in for smooth sailing. O'Malley's name recognition and momentum remain stalled. Despite calls from the likes of Elizabeth Warren for a contested primary (put up or shut up, Senator!), there's no groundswell behind another candidate—not O'Malley, not Jim Webb, not Bernie Sanders, and certainly not Lincoln Chafee—though they'll be ready if she stumbles. The question of whether a contested primary is good for Clinton, bad for Clinton, or not much difference remains, well, contested.
9. Can she repair her relationship with the press? Since the media loves to talk about nothing more than itself, and since there's been no campaign or policy platform to report on and discuss, the Clintons' relationship with reporters has been subject to intense scrutiny for months now. What does Hillary think of the press? What does the press think of Hillary? Does it matter? A series of recent hires have given the impression that she's adding staff who like and get along well with reporters, and top campaign staffers hosted a group of reporters for dinner Thursday night. On the other hand, Alex Seitz-Wald reports that her campaign is considering pooled reporters for her smaller events, the sort of action that irks the press and suggests a continued desire to keep it at arm's length.
10. How much will she raise? Every campaign sets a new record these days, but Clinton reportedly plans to raise an eye-popping $1.5 to 2 billion dollars—more than the $1.1 billion Obama raised in 2012. Add to that the outside spending from super PACs and other groups, and you can expect an astonishing amount of money flying around.
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