WASHINGTON – To the surprise of, well, no one, former U.S. senator and secretary of State Hillary Clinton made it official this week – she intends to seek the Democratic nomination for president in 2016.
That decision is not news. The real story is that some potential rivals are looking at the race despite facing overwhelming odds, giving new meaning in the view of some observers to the old Alexander Pope stanza “fools rush in where angels fear to tread.”
Clinton, who has been on the national scene since her husband, former President Bill Clinton, captured the White House 23 years ago, is expected to raise in the area of $2 billion for the effort. Polls show her with a commanding and intimidating lead among Democrats. RealClearPolitics shows her with the support of 59.8 percent of the party faithful – and that’s down a bit from her high-water mark. She has never scored below 54 percent in any survey taken of the presidential pulse since the beginning of 2014.
Clinton has been here before – she led the field in 2008, running as the senator from New York, only to flag and lose the nomination to President Obama. During that campaign, according to RealClearPolitics, her highest rating was 53 percent – meaning Clinton at her highest point seven years ago was less popular among Democrats than she has been during the low point of her current campaign.
The announcement already has had the effect of paring down the number of folks considering the race. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who ironically succeeded Clinton in the upper chamber, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), who were pawing around the periphery awaiting Clinton’s decision, already have thrown their support behind her.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), the darling of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party who might have standing to attack Clinton from the left as some party stalwarts have never forgiven Clinton for supporting the war in Iraq, has consistently declared she’s not running for president and nothing has occurred to indicate a change of heart.
Secretary of State John Kerry, the former senator from Massachusetts who was the Democratic nominee in 2004 and who succeeded Clinton at Foggy Bottom, heard his name being tossed around in the event she decided to pass on the opportunity. Now he’s gone as well.
That leaves five possibilities, none guaranteed to enter the starting gate – Vice President Joe Biden, ex-Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb.
If anyone else is taking a serious gander, they’re playing it close to the vest.
While O’Malley appears to be the most dedicated to the idea, Webb, 69, who left the Senate after a single term, has probably done the most to prepare for a run. He has established an exploratory committee and hit the early primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire.
If he makes it official, Webb plans on waging a populist campaign based on getting folks from both political parties to “to work together for the common good.”
“As one who spent four years in the Reagan administration and then served in the Senate as a Democrat, I believe it is possible,” he said. “It is also necessary. We desperately need to fix our country and to reinforce the values that have sustained us for more than two centuries, many of which have fallen by the wayside in the nasty debates of the last several years.”
Webb said he is working to determine if a presidential campaign “is something that I can fully commit myself to” and further determine if he can garner the necessary financial support.
Webb was a Marine infantry officer who saw combat during the Vietnam War, receiving the Navy Cross, the nation’s second highest award for valor. After his tour of duty, Webb obtained a law degree and worked as counsel for a House committee. He served as an assistant secretary of Defense during the Reagan administration and eventually rose to the position of secretary of the Navy.
O’Malley, who endorsed Clinton for president in 2008, has not officially entered the race but, like Webb, he has spent a substantial amount of time campaigning in the early primary states. Recently he has been prodding Clinton from the left, a position he wasn’t expected to assume. Rather, O’Malley will cite a record of accomplishment during his time as mayor of Baltimore and governor of Maryland.
O’Malley said Baltimore had become “the most violent, most addicted, most abandoned city in America” when he decided to run for mayor in 1999.
“And our biggest enemy wasn’t drug dealers or crack cocaine — it was a lack of belief, a culture of failure, countless excuses about how nothing would work, why none of us should even bother to try,” he said. “So we set out to make our city work again, to make the dream real again. In our fight for survival, we brought forward a new way of governing and a new way getting things done.”
Over the next 10 years, he said, Baltimore witnessed the biggest reduction in crime of any major city in America.
During his tenure in Annapolis, O’Malley, 52, said “we did more, not less, to make our children winners in this changing economy,” while other states tried to cut their way to prosperity.
“We tossed aside the failed policies of the past — the trickle-down economics that got us into the mess. We embraced, instead, the power of economic inclusion.”
As a result, O’Malley said, Maryland during his tenure became one of the top states for upward economic mobility for families, maintained the highest median income in the nation and created jobs at one of the fastest rates in the region.
In 2011, as governor of one of the nation’s most Democratic and liberal states, O’Malley signed a law that would make certain undocumented workers eligible for in-state college tuition. He further signed a law adopting same-sex marriage in Maryland in 2012.
Sanders, 73, is considering seeking the Democratic nomination even though he isn’t even a registered Democrat – he is a self-described Democratic Socialist who serves in the Senate as an independent, even though he caucuses with Democrats. He is expected to announce his intentions by the end of April.
Should he run, Sanders could emerge as the most liberal or progressive major party candidate since Henry Wallace ran for president in 1948. He intends to, he said, stand for “social and economic justice and environmental sanity.”
Despite an improved economy, Sanders said, “the 40-year decline of the American middle class continues.”
“Meanwhile, as the rich become much richer, the level of income and wealth inequality has reached obscene and unimaginable levels,” he said. “In the United States, we have the most unequal level of wealth and income distribution of any major country on earth and worse now than at any other time since the 1920s.”
That, Sanders said, is “what a rigged economic system looks like.”
“At a time when millions of American workers have seen declines in their incomes and are working longer hours for lower wages, the wealth of the billionaire class is soaring in a way that few can imagine.”
Chafee, meanwhile, only recently indicated he might run for president. He has been all over the political map – as the son of Sen. John Chafee, of Rhode Island, a liberal Republican, he succeeded his father as a member of the GOP, switched to independent and won the governorship in 2010. During his time in Providence Chafee switched to the Democratic Party and declined to run for re-election in face of plummeting poll numbers.
Chafee, 62, didn’t hint at a run until April 9, long after all other candidates made it clear they were at least considering the possibility. In announcing the formation of an exploratory committee, he took direct aim at the front-runner, Clinton.
“I would argue that anybody who voted for the Iraq War should not be president and certainly anybody who voted for the Iraq War should not lead the Democratic Party into an election,” he told Politico.
But the wild card in all this, obviously, is Biden, who twice before sought the Democratic nomination before serving as Obama’s No. 2 man beginning in 2008.
Biden remains a popular figure in Democratic Party circles and is a proven fundraiser. But he has proved unable to push it over the line in the past and, at age 71, there’s a feeling that his opportunity has passed.
But appearing at a roundtable discussion with regional reporters on April 13, Biden insisted there still remains plenty of time to decide whether or not to enter the race.
“I haven’t made up my mind on that,’’ he said. “I have plenty of time to do that, in my view. If I am wrong, I’m dead wrong, but there’s a lot the president and I care about that has to get done in the next two, three months and when you run for president you’ve got to run for president — and I’m not ready to do that — if I am ever going to be ready to do that.”