Hillary Clinton’s campaign is ready to go. The fired-up part is still a work in progress.
Clinton will officially kick off her 2016 bid for the White House this morning on New York’s Roosevelt Island, a sedate, middle-class enclave lashed by the currents of the East River. It’s here she’s hoping to start a wave of her own, a movement that connects her to FDR’s liberal warrior legacy and heralds her intention to become the country’s first woman president.
But generating enthusiasm is already proving to be a significant challenge for the 67-year-old Clinton, given the electorate’s general sense of disaffection with established politicians — especially one seeking to succeed a president from her own party — the lack of a galvanizing national crisis to motivate voters, a spate of negative news stories about the Clintons, and her workmanlike approach at a time when the party’s base is demanding bolder leadership.
“She is still the most prohibitive favorite for an open seat nomination I can recall,” said David Axelrod, President Barack Obama’s former message guru. “For all the navel-gazing, her numbers among Democrats remain quite high. But what is missing is a larger context for her candidacy that explains the positions she is taking in a coherent, and not just tactical, way. This is an important element of generating enthusiasm.”
“She hasn’t really laid that out her vision for the country in a comprehensive way, so basically she’s allowed others, namely the press, to define her candidacy for her,” said veteran pollster David Winston, who has advised House and Senate Republicans. “There’s this pronounced feeling that we are just treading water as a country and people are just very frustrated.”
Clinton remains very popular with the Democratic base — she retains a commanding 40 to 50-point lead over Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in recent surveys, and most of her supporters have told pollsters they aren’t shopping for alternatives. But outside of Clinton’s circle, Democratic operatives, donors and big labor leaders talk about her supporting her candidacy as a duty, rather than a cause. And in a race likely to be determined by mobilizing the base, rather than winning over independents, that’s worrisome for the Clinton camp.
“There’s not a lot of raw enthusiasm out there yet,” said one Clinton fundraiser, echoing the sentiments of several other supporters we spoke to for this story. “I think that will change, especially when the campaign really gets going, but it’s why she’s been banging away on the ‘I need to earn every vote’ theme. She has to figure out a way to get people riled up.”
To stoke the flames, Clinton is highlighting her battles for the powerless and downplaying her connections to power. When she launched her first presidential campaign in early 2007, the message was all about her ability to beat Republicans and her fitness to govern from “day one.” This time, it’s all about the fight – and her campaign released a new video on Friday showcasing, for the first time, her failed efforts at progressive reform, including the humbling 1993 collapse of her health care initiative.
SOURCE: GLENN THRUSH and ANNIE KARNI