Three years before the vote, Clinton machine gears up
WASHINGTON - With the news that America's largest liberal fundraising group is to back a Hillary Clinton presidential bid in 2016, a growing sense of inevitability is building around her prospective candidacy.
The former secretary of state who once occupied the White House as first lady and narrowly lost the Democratic nomination in 2008, has been coy about whether she plans to run again.
But she has said that she will decide this year and, with a full 24 months before even the first party primaries, the "draft Clinton" movement is not waiting for its heroine to formally announce.
She swamps other potential Democratic contenders in the polls, including Vice President Joe Biden, another 2008 Democratic challenger defeated by Barack Obama's victorious campaign.
Meanwhile, the man once seen as her most dangerous Republican challenger, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, is battling a murky political dirty tricks scandal in his home state.
Clinton is scheduled to give three speeches in April before business groups in reliably Democratic California, further fueling speculation that the 66-year-old veteran is nurturing a candidacy.
Priorities USA Action, a non-profit political group which brought in $78 million for Obama's re-election campaign in 2012, confirmed Thursday it plans to raise money for Clinton from rich Democrats.
The group named 2012 Obama campaign manager Jim Messina, a veteran political operator with deep ties to wealthy donors, as its co-chair, essentially ensuring the most high-profile Democratic push of the coming election cycle.
He is joined at the helm by former Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm, an energetic Clinton backer and who has spoken for grassroots political action committee, "Ready For Hillary."
Political analyst Tobe Berkovitz told AFP the moves are early efforts at "bigfooting potential challengers on the Democratic side and also freezing the big donors from going anywhere else."
Is it too early?
Part of the plan appears to be for the Clinton camp to burnish the inevitability of her candidacy, showing she is hungry to make history as the United States' first woman president.
But is it happening too early?
Berkovitz said news of the powerful groups aligning with Clinton was good for her but warned it may have been better to appear inevitable a year from now when voters are closer to making their decisions.
And yet the enormous early enthusiasm for Clinton is a "tremendous asset," argued Mitch Stewart, Obama's battleground states director in 2012, who now advises Ready For Hillary.
"I think you're seeing people coalesce around that excitement because it's very rare, if ever, to see something like that especially three years before the actual election," he told AFP.
"For us not to take advantage of both the enthusiasm that we're seeing across the country but also the time that we have, again I think it would be gross malpractice."
As if the world needed reminding that Clinton's gravitational pull was increasing, this week's New York Times Magazine cover features a much-debated "Planet Hillary," an orb bearing Clinton's face.
The image also contains a nod to potential threats to her campaign from the aura of scandal that still cloud memories of her husband's presidency, featuring as it does a "Friends of Bill" black hole.
If Clinton runs she will need to juggle operating in today's data-driven political climate of micro-targeting and rapid response, while also buttering up the old-school politicos who have been the power couple's inner circle for decades.
Sensing a juggernaut, Republicans have not waited for Clinton to declare before trying to set-up roadblocks.
Even before Clinton left office as secretary of state, conservative lawmakers seized on the militant attack on an under-protected US mission in Benghazi, Libya that killed the US ambassador in 2012 as evidence that Clinton is not White House material.
They have also turned to a recent memoir by former defense secretary Robert Gates, a Republican in Obama's first-term cabinet, who wrote that Clinton only opposed the 2007 troop surge in Iraq for political reasons because she was facing Obama in the primaries.
But when Gates was asked whether he felt Clinton would be a good president, he let down Clinton's critics in his own party.
"Actually, I think she would," Gates said.
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