12 Apr 2015

Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid: is America ready?

Ready for Hillary? It seems America is so very, very ready. For the most important thing about a political journey is a story. And Hillary Clinton certainly has a story.

A beginning: the rebirth of her White House ambition, amid the shards of those million cracks in the glass ceiling and the lessons learned from a failed campaign.

A middle: the quiet drama of the State Department, all the while amassing a crack team of strategists and advisors, and favourability ratings which most politicians could only dream of.

And an end, an end which has yet to be written, beyond the brief epilogue which Hillary published only this week – “I wondered for a moment what a quilt of my own life would look like … there was so much more to do. So many more panels waiting to fill in. I folded up the quilt and got back to work.”

For this is the apparently unstoppable force which is Hillary Rodham Clinton: doyenne of one of America’s most controversial political families, instantly polarising, revered and reviled in equal measure. Who like her husband, the original comeback kid, has survived defeats and scandals and rejection with astonishing stamina and strength. And who is even now, writing another chapter in her own political saga.

“I am all about new beginnings. A new granddaughter, another new hairstyle, a new email account… no more secrecy, no more zone of privacy.”

There will be, of course, a formal announcement, but what follows will be the crucial part.

A fundraising blitz is promised, like no-one has ever seen: a whirlwind tour through those crucial primary states, Iowa, New Hampshire, seeking not simply to capture that essential momentum, but to embrace a sense of energy, and political hunger.

Whatever the defining zeitgeist of her campaign, it must be a million miles from inevitability, or worse – entitlement. This is all about stagecraft, a series of moments laden with deliberate symbolism.

Already in place, one of the most formidable pre-campaign machines ever seen, crammed into a couple of floors of office space in that epitome of hipster-cool, Brooklyn: a staff including former White House director of communications Jen Palmieri, national campaign manager Robby Mook, Obama‘s former message-maker Jim Margolis, and the woman who helped to turn Michelle Obama into an icon, Kristina Schale.

There’s cash. Close to $15m raised by the Ready for Hillary team, from more than 150,000 donors they say are poised to contribute ten times more. And, of course, a grassroots network which has been in place for years, thousands of activists across the country, who have been waiting years for this very day.

But if that first bid for the Democratic nomination was Hillary, 2.0, this time must not simply be a re-boot, but a paradigm shift. Building a fresh movement from the ground up: reconnecting a woman who has lived inside the political bubble for almost her entire adult life, with the hard-pressed middle class families she must represent.

Not so much the ability to electrify a crowd, as Obama did so effectively, but connecting on a much more fundamental level: this will be about smaller, more intimate events, showcasing authenticity and empathy – making voters feel they are being listened to.

Read: Hillary Clinton - the report card

And, for someone so familiar, the challenge of generating that neccessary excitement and inspiration which will turn out voters in their droves: Hillary as gender trail-blazer, another chance to make history. The key demographics: women, and young voters – what should be her natural constituency.

Naturally not everything is going Clinton’s way. There’s been controversy over her use of a private email server when she was secretary of state. Concern among liberals that she’s just not progressive enough. The cynicism about her age. And the unknown quantity of the as-yet-to-be-chosen Republican rival.

Indeed, the unknown-ness of everything, as New York Magazine’s Jason Zengerle put it: a “race which is at once liberating and terrifying: Nothing really matters. Unless it does.”

And so it begins: a bid for the presidency in what will surely become the most expensive, the most highly-charged, the most unpredictable contest in years. There are millions of voters yet to meet: millions of dollars still to spend, millions of column inches yet to print. The end of the Hillary story? It’s only just starting to be written.

Felicity Spector writes about US politics for Channel 4 News.