Hillary Clinton officially launched her long-expected campaign for the White House Sunday, attempting for a second time to become the first female president in the nation’s history.
“I’m running for president,” Clinton said in a video posted on her new campaign website. “Everyday Americans need a champion and I want to be that champion.”
In the two-minute video, a group of Americans diverse in race, age and sexual orientation talk about a series of changes occurring in their lives – getting married, having children, moving, finding a job and retiring. Clinton doesn’t appear on screen until more than 1 1/2 minutes into the video.
In her brief remarks, the former first lady, senator and secretary of State speaks directly to viewers, focusing solely on economic fairness – the theme that will serve as the backbone of her campaign.
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“Americans have fought their way back from tough economic times,” she said. “But the deck is still stacked in favor of those at the top.”
Acting quickly to underscore her message of connecting with ordinary Americans, Clinton set off Sunday on a drive from New York, where she lives and her campaign is based, to Iowa, where she will hold events Tuesday and Wednesday.
Along with several aides in a van on the cross-country trek, Clinton scheduled no specific events but did plan to stop along the way to talk to people, an aide said. Her campaign did not announce the drive, but confirmed it after she stopped in Pennsylvania and someone she met called in to CNN. “Road trip! Loaded the van & set off for IA,” Clinton said in a tweet. “Met a great family when we stopped this afternoon. Many more to come.”
It was unclear whether she took a turn behind the wheel. She hasn’t driven herself since 1996, she said last year.
In Iowa, a critical state where she finished a humiliating third in the 2008 caucuses, she plans a series of smaller, less-scripted events at coffee shops and in living rooms. She will visit New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada, the other states that kick off the votes for a Democratic nominee, in coming weeks.
In recent months, she has recruited staff in the early nominating states who have been working as volunteers, and she’s opened a campaign headquarters in Brooklyn. A more traditional kickoff, presumably including a speech, won’t take place until May after she builds up her campaign in all 50 states, aides said.
Clinton begins what she hopes is a 19-month journey to the White House with enormous strengths. She has one of the best-known brands in U.S. politics in part because of her husband, popular former President Bill Clinton. She has a large network of allies with the ability to raise millions of dollars quickly. She has a relatively clear field for the Democratic nomination.
She has enormous weaknesses too. She remains a polarizing figure who continues to be dogged by multiple investigations into her conduct. She has been criticized as an out-of-touch Washington insider who received hefty paychecks for speeches and remains tied to the nation’s biggest corporations.
Clinton resigned from the board of the Clinton Foundation on Sunday afternoon.
“While I have cherished my time serving on the board and engaging in the day-to-day work of the Foundation, in order to devote myself to this new, all-encompassing endeavor, I have resigned from the Board of Directors effective today,” Clinton wrote in an email to the foundation. Her daughter and husband remain involved.
Her place in history as the first female candidate to seriously vie for the presidency will both help her and hurt her.
When she ran last time, Clinton avoided talking about her personal experiences, especially those as a woman, saying that she was running because she was the best-qualified candidate. But this time, she is expected to share more personal anecdotes and focus on issues that might appeal to women, including affordable child care and access to health care.
“Secretary Clinton’s candidacy is a powerful message to girls that they can aspire to the highest office, and an equally powerful message to boys that women can be leaders on an equal footing with men,” said Terry O'Neill, president of the National Organization for Women.
Andrew Kohut, founding director of the Pew Research Center, called Clinton the “most viable candidate out there” but said that the nation in 2016 could be looking for a new face.
Clinton, 67, leads the Democratic field by overwhelming margins with some polls showing her as much as 50 points ahead of her potential rivals. But recent polls show she may be vulnerable against some possible Republican candidates after seeing a dip in her numbers amid ethical questions about her family foundation’s acceptance of foreign donations and her use of a private email account to conduct government business while the nation’s top diplomat.
She also faces a Republican Party determined to defeat her.
Two Republicans – Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky – have announced candidacies in recent weeks. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida is expected to announce Monday in Miami.
The Republican National Committee launched a six-figure paid “Stop Hillary” campaign highlighting a series of scandals it says already is clouding her candidacy in the general election battlegrounds of Colorado, Florida, Iowa, North Carolina, Ohio and Virginia.
“The Clintons believe they can play by a different set of rules and think they’re above transparency, accountability, and ethics,” RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said. “Our next president must represent a higher standard, and that is not Hillary Clinton.”
Paul announced Sunday he will launch an attack ad to air in early-nominating states against a woman he says “represents the worst of the Washington machine, arrogance of power, corruption and cover-up, conflicts of interest and failed leadership with tragic consequences.”
Republicans have painted a possible Clinton presidency as a third term of President Barack Obama, her onetime rival who asked her to serve as secretary of state. Several possible Republicans candidates talked about the “failed policies of the past” after her announcement Sunday.
On Saturday, in response to a question at a news conference in Panama, Obama said Clinton would make an “excellent president.”
But some in her party continue to push for a more liberal candidate who would embrace “big, bold, economic populist ideas” including debt-free college, expanding Social Security, clean-energy jobs, and reforming Wall Street.
“We hope Hillary Clinton thinks big and takes on powerful interests on behalf of everyday working families,” said Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, a liberal hero who once served as Clinton’s campaign manager, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday he would wait to endorse Clinton until he sees a “clear, bold vision for progressive economic change.”
Others considering a run for the Democratic nomination are independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, former Sen. Jim Webb or Virginia and former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee. Some are lobbying Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts to run, but both seem increasingly unlikely to do so.
John Hudak, who studies campaigns at the Brooking Institution, a center-left policy research center, said Clinton is forcing the left wing of her party to focus their strategy on pushing Clinton to tackle key issues instead of urging Warren to run. “The left is just waking up to reality – the reality is she’s going to be the nominee,” he said.
Sean Cockerham in Washington contributed.