The baggage Hillary carries | Opinion | DW | 13.04.2015
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The baggage Hillary carries

Hillary Clinton has officially announced her candidacy for the US presidency on Sunday. But though she currently appears unstoppable, her victory is far from certain, says DW's Gero Schliess in Washington.

Why does Hillary Clinton want to be president? Now that she has finally declared her 2016 presidential bid, this issue is suddenly back in focus.

What has attracted the 67-year-old former first lady, senator and secretary of state back to the grueling campaign trail for the country's highest office? Her video announcement, posted Sunday to launch her campaign, provided little explanation.

A foregone conclusion?

Clinton will soon have to make her reasons for running clear, even if it currently looks as if everything is going her way.

Naturally, Clinton wants to stand up for the middle class. This is a popular pledge, one that President Barack Obama makes often. But even he hasn't been able to prevent the gradual disappearance of the country's middle class, strangled by the financial and housing crises, stagnating incomes, rising education costs and living expenses, to name just a few problems. Even Clinton's invocation of equal opportunities is an old electoral rallying cry, one also used by the Republicans.

By contrast, Clinton hasn't taken much of a stance on the recent brutal police assaults and discussion about race, nor has she commented much on the breathtaking social change brought about by the triumph of same-sex marriage. Even with "hard" issues, like the regulation of the financial markets, she hasn't taken a position.

Gero Schliess

Hillary still faces an uphill battle, DW's Gero Schliess says

Within her own party, the fact that Hillary Clinton avoided committing to any specific topics ahead of announcing her candidacy hasn't harmed her at all. To the contrary: Clinton appears to be almost almighty, she has skillfully maneuvered herself into a pole position. Competition from within her party is not in view.

Perhaps she is her own greatest opponent in the battle for the candidacy for president, however. Clinton is not regarded as a strong campaigner. She makes mistakes when under pressure, the most recent case being how she dealt with the scandal concerning her use of a private e-mail account when she was Secretary of State.

She also made insensitive remarks about money and affluence in the nationwide promotional tour for her autobiography. Losing her first presidential candidacy to an initially unknown outsider by the name of Barack Obama hit her hard. It never left her and it noticeably shapes the current campaign

Pro at her side

In John Podesta, Clinton chose a seasoned political pro as her campaign chairman: he saw her husband Bill through the Lewinsky scandal and helped Barack Obama stabilize his presidency.

To begin with, Podesta made some cosmetic adjustments. To get rid of her image as a cold power technocrat, he cast Clinton as the doting grandmother after the birth of her granddaughter. Casually, she pre-empts questions about her age, which could very well turn out to be a burden.

Clinton is trying to sweep under the carper the vast superiority of her campaign apparatus, which came across as off-putting in 2008, by meeting voters in living rooms and kitchens and avoiding large events.

Muted enthusiasm

But the Herculean part of the task still lies ahead of her: Clinton and her team should contemplate the fact that the announcement of her candidacy hasn't triggered major voter enthusiasm in the country - despite consistently good poll ratings. For lack of an alternative, many see her as the lesser evil rather than the great stateswoman. What could turn out to be dangerous for her is widespread weariness of a political establishment of which she is regarded to be the most prominent protagonist. Her strength as an experienced and tested politician is also her weakness. One can barely imagine that she could still come up with something new after 25 years on the political stage.

But that is the point: Hillary Clinton must re-invent herself; she and her team must develop convincing messages and make people understand why she is doing this one more time. It's a disadvantage that she was a good Secretary of State but showed little competence in key domestic issues like the economy, health policies, and national security.

Facing Washington

The Republican, on the other hand, stride into the election campaign with confidence and filled coffers. Even if candidates like Ted Cruz and Rand Paul take radical fringe positions, they can still prove dangerous to Clinton. Their current Stop Hillary campaign mobilizes resentment "against them in Washington" and pushes Clinton into a corner of history as reactionary and a kind of Diet Obama.

That, however, isn't where you win elections, it's where you lose them. Hillary Clinton has by no means convinced the majority of the American people yet. She will have to work hard for the ticket to the White House. Suspense is guaranteed.

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