Clinton begins as front-runner


Published: Sunday, January 21, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 21, 2007 at 12:12 a.m.
WASHINGTON - New York Democratic Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton Saturday launched a long-anticipated 2008 presidential campaign that could make her the first female president in the nation's history and the only former first lady to follow her husband in the White House.
''I'm in and I'm in to win,'' Clinton said on her campaign Web site early in the morning, and then spent the day at her Washington home making calls to supporters, donors and friends. Her announcement was deliberately timed to coincide with President Bush's State of the Union address on Tuesday night, campaign advisers said, so she can draw a contrast with administration's record and help focus attention on the office of the presidency.
Their hope, they said, is to establish Clinton as the candidate best prepared to become the first Democrat in the White House since Bush succeeded Bill Clinton six years ago.
''The stakes will be high when America chooses a new president in 2008,'' she said in a statement that was posted on her Web site along with a video announcement. ''As a senator, I will spend two years doing everything in my power to limit the damage George W. Bush can do. But only a new president will be able to undo Bush's mistakes and restore our hope and optimism.''
Clinton begins the long campaign as the clear front-runner for the Democratic nomination, according to a nationwide Washington Post-ABC News poll completed Friday night. The poll showed her the favorite of 41 percent of Democrats, more than double the support of any of her potential rivals.
Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, who established his exploratory committee last week, has generated enormous interest and attention, putting the Clinton camp on notice. The poll put him in second place among Democrats at 17 percent, but his support has not increased over the past month as he has moved toward a formal candidacy.
In hypothetical general election matchups against the two most prominent prospective GOP candidates, Clinton narrowly leads Arizona Sen. John McCain and is running about even with former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani.
As a former first lady now serving her second term in the Senate, she has one of the best-known names in American politics. She has a national network of supporters, the capacity to raise as much or more money than any of her rivals and a resume of political activity dating back decades that now includes six years in the Senate and a landslide re-election victory last November.
Clinton is particularly popular among younger women, 18-34, who see her as a role model and may not recall the negative publicity and partisan attacks she weathered as first lady over her health-care proposal and other issues. For this reason, women's advocates see her candidacy as having the potential to create a cultural and political shift not unlike those under John F. Kennedy, the first Catholic president and a symbol of generational change, or during the Vietnam War.
''What is so exciting about this is that she will appeal to a whole new generation of women who will become political and get involved because of her,'' says Ellen Malcolm, the president of Emily's List, which raises money for female candidates. The senator's advisers acknowledge one hurdle for Clinton is to convince women she can actually win - a fear women often articulate.
Wasting no time, Clinton's campaign posted a 1,250-word memo on the Web site from strategist Mark Penn that begins: ''People are always asking, can Hillary Clinton win the presidency? Of course she can.''
But many Democrats say she will have to work to overcome skepticism about her candidacy inside the party.

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