WASHINGTON — It sounds like a bad joke from an old comedy routine. Question: How do you take on Hillary Rodham Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination? Answer: Very carefully.
Clinton is almost universally popular among Democrats as they look ahead to the 2016 race, with memories of her strong 2008 campaign enhanced by her work as secretary of state. If she runs again, she’ll have the most money in the bank, an experienced organization at her back and the emotional advantage of trying to finally achieve what many voters consider a long-overdue goal: the election of the first female president.
“Here’s a woman who’s been working 60-70 hours a week for the last four years, on some of the most difficult, complicated challenges we’ve had,” said Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, often talked about as a 2016 Democratic contender, despite his denials of interest. “I think it would be very difficult to attack her.”
At this stage, it isn’t clear that anyone of stature will try. Just by announcing her candidacy, the governor predicted, “she’d clear a significant part of the field.”
An analysis of presidential polling shows that Clinton is in a stronger position than any non-incumbent Democrat of the modern era at this stage of the process. Her lead over potential rivals in polls, so far, exceeds Al Gore’s before the 2000 campaign, when he easily gained the nomination as a sitting vice president. What makes Clinton’s advantage even more impressive is that her nearest competitor in the early polls is the sitting vice president, Joe Biden.
There are other reasons to think that Democrats may have only a token nomination campaign were Clinton to run. The notoriously fractious party is more unified than at any time in decades. Differences over economic, cultural and national security policy are muted, if they exist at all. That absence of internal divisions would make it more difficult to assemble a coalition against Clinton. By comparison, in the bitterly fought 2008 race, Clinton’s support for the Iraq war presented a clear contrast with Barack Obama on an issue that divided and disconcerted Democrats.