On Sunday, the least surprising moment in the history of United States politics will take place. Though nothing is official, it's pretty much a given that Hillary Clinton, former First Lady, Senator, Secretary of State, and one-time candidate for the Democratic nomination for president, will announce her decision to run for the White House a second time, once again bidding to become the first female leader of the world's most powerful country.
How exciting it sounds! Except, as of right now, Clinton appears likely to… coast isn't even the right word. Clinton is basically guaranteed to win the Democratic nomination with little opposition whatsoever. She's polling a remarkable 47.6 percent average ahead of the next two potential opponents, Vice President Joe Biden and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, and there's a good chance neither of them—particularly Warren—will have any interest in trying to overcome that deficit by running. The other possibilities—Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley, and former Virginia Senator and novelist Jim Webb—are so far behind, they're basically running in 2012.
Practically speaking, that means that Clinton will essentially use the primary to solidify her campaign and platform as she prepares to face off against whichever of the 375 Republican contenders rises to the top of that stew. She's going to need a solid defense—the hyperbole is already coming hot and fast from the right, with NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre warning Friday that a Clinton presidency "will bring a permanent darkness of deceit and despair forced upon the American people to endure." (Sounds like someone has been watching a little too much Game of Thrones .)
But what if something else happens: What if Clinton decides to actually run? As in, run an interesting, engaging, and animated campaign intended to make folks outside of the Democrat Establishment feel not only obligated to vote for her, but passionate about it? Is this possible? Would it even be worth it, considering she's probably going to sail into the general election anyway?
Let's consider one thing. Since Harry Truman won the White House in 1948—he took over after Franklin Delano Roosevelt died during his fourth straight term and then won re-election himself—the Democrats have not won three straight presidential elections. The Republicans have only done it once, when George H.W. Bush succeeded Ronald Reagan's two terms in 1988. If Clinton wins the White House, she'll have to break with that history.
After Barack Obama's landslide win in 2012, it's easy to overlook how much ingenuity and politicking it took for him to get elected. One of the major successes of the Obama campaign was hugely boosting turnout among youth and minority voters, which benefited the Democrats in an enormous way. In 2008, Obama won 68 percent of the vote among voters aged 18 to 24, and 69 percent among voters aged 25 to 29. Blacks, Latinos, and Asians gave Obama 96 percent, 67 percent, and 63 percent of their votes, respectively. More importantly, millions more voters in these demographic groups turned out in 2008 than did in 2004.
But while all of these groups tend to favor Democrats, it isn't a given that they'll turn out for Clinton in the numbers and with the enthusiasm with which they voted for Obama. So Clinton's biggest task will be converting her sky-high name recognition and the sense of inevitability around her campaign into the kind of energy that Obama generated, particularly among those groups that voted for him in record numbers.
How does Clinton do that? Well, it already looks as though she will make a bigger deal of the fact that she'd be the first woman president in American history this time around than she did in 2012, when tended to play down the gender thing. But the Democratic Party has also moved to the left of Clinton on some issues, and there's a possibility she'll have to contend with her generally hawkish foreign policy reputation and close relationship with Wall Street.
But let's be realistic: She's going to win the nomination no matter what happens, barring a very serious surprise. That means the general election is going to be the real show, against whatever Republican the GOP trots out, with the possible exception of Jeb Bush whose theoretical campaign is almost, although not quite, as boring as Clinton's. Barring a more moderate challenge from someone like Bush or Marco Rubio, Clinton should have a stranglehold over left and the left-center voters. But in order to win, she'll have to drum up the same kind of passion among the voters who boosted the last Democrat to the White House.
Given how unexciting the idea of another Clinton campaign is to almost everyone, it's not clear whether she'll be able to do that. So while Clinton might not be another Obama, she could certainly stand to steal a thing or two from him.
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