Sen. Clinton ready to `make history'

Former first lady aims to return to White House

January 21, 2007|By Paul West | Paul West,Sun Reporter

WASHINGTON -- Hillary Rodham Clinton made it official yesterday, launching her bid for the 2008 Democratic nomination and a chance to return to the White House as the nation's first female president.

The only presidential spouse to win election to the Senate, Clinton is regarded as the early front-runner. But her celebrity, her lead in the polls and the formidable organization she built with her husband aren't frightening others away. Up to a dozen Democrats are either running or preparing to enter a contest that appears more competitive now than it did a few months ago.

"I'm in. And I'm in to win," Clinton declared in a written statement on her campaign Web site. "We will make history and remake our future."

She also appeared in a Web video, Oprah-style, in a venue designed to soften her image as a remote and cautious politician. One-upping a rival, Sen. Barack Obama, who made his announcement online as well, Clinton said she would employ Internet technology to interact with voters in a series of video chats this week.

"This is a big election with some very big questions," Clinton said in her statement. "How do we bring the war in Iraq to the right end? How can we make sure every American has access to adequate health care? How will we ensure our children inherit a clean environment and energy independence? How can we reduce the deficits that threaten Social Security and Medicare?"

The 59-year-old New York senator, who once wrote a book about raising children entitled It Takes A Village, said she wanted her campaign to be a "national conversation."

"So, let's talk. Let's chat. Let's start a dialogue about your ideas and mine, because the conversation in Washington has been just a little one-sided lately, don't you think?" Clinton said in the nearly two-minute video that shows her seated casually on a couch in her Washington residence.

"I have a feeling it's going to be very interesting," she added, teasingly.

Her decision to run had been expected by the end of this month, but the exact timing came as a surprise. Clinton's campaign denied that Obama's decision to join the race had forced her hand, though the videotaping of her announcement took place after the Illinois senator revealed his plans.

Clinton's ability to attract national attention has never been in question, and aides said they expected the media coverage surrounding her decision to extend through President Bush's State of the Union speech on Tuesday.

Her announcement largely overshadowed the entry of two other presidential candidates this weekend, Republican Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas and Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico. Richardson, who is Hispanic, assures that Democrats will have three candidates trying to make history: the first woman, the first African-American and the first Latino seeking to become president in the same year.

In her announcement, the senator made no mention of her husband, former President Bill Clinton. In her video, a collection of family photographs on a table in the background was his only (barely) visible presence as she began her run.

However, she repeated a trademark line from his campaigns, that Americans who "work hard and play by the rules" deserve to reap the benefits of the American dream.

And former Democratic Party chairman Terry McAuliffe, a key Clinton fundraiser and adviser, said the former president will be "very active" in the campaign.

"He wants to make sure that his wife is elected," McAuliffe said on CNN. "The two of them will be out there campaigning extensively."

Mrs. Clinton's popularity rose after the disclosure of her husband's affair with a young White House intern, Monica Lewinsky, and his subsequent impeachment by the House. (The Senate did not convict him.) Since the former president left office, his standing in the polls has risen, and Democratic activists often say they wish he could have run for a third term.

Mrs. Clinton plans to highlight her experiences as first lady and in the Senate, arguing that her "lifetime record of results" make her more qualified than her major rivals to assume the presidency.

Only a new president can "undo Bush's mistakes," she said yesterday, and "restore our hope and optimism," "renew the promise of America," and "regain America's position as a respected leader in the world."

One of her challenges, Democrats say, will be to capitalize on nostalgia for the Clinton years, while at the same time convincing voters that she is a forward-looking candidate. Her rivals will try to turn the Bill Clinton era against her, by suggesting that 20 years of Bushes and Clintons in the White House are enough and that it's time for the country to move on.

On Iraq, an issue that could pose difficulties for her in the primaries because of her early support for the invasion, Clinton has stepped up her criticism of Bush's policy in recent weeks, calling it a "failed strategy" and proposing a cap on the number of U.S. troops there.

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