Hillary Clinton 2016: 65% Approval Rating Makes It Clear She Could Win

"Well, it isn't exactly the party I'd planned, but I sure like the company."

— Hillary Clinton conceding the Democratic nomination to Barak Obama, June 7, 2008.

Hillary Clinton returned to work this week at the State Department following a month-long health ordeal that started with the flu, a fall, a concussion and then a blood clot in her brain that required several days of hospitalization and treatment. She has said she will not serve as secretary of state in President Obama's second term, but a departure date has not been disclosed. Some anticipate that when she leaves, she will move into candidate mode in preparation to run for president in 2016.

Hillary Clinton hasn't committed to running for president. She left the 2008 race in June of that year, following a long and heated primary, division in the party and loss of favorability ratings. Today, there is still a Hillary Clinton website, with an address and email link. A Hillary Clinton for President 2016 Facebook page run by a grassroots group of supporters has more than 14,500 "likes." But a website and a Facebook page alone don't launch a campaign.

Before the November 2012 election, the media buzz about a 2016 run for Hillary Clinton was nonstop. In fact, it really never stopped after she pulled out of the race in 2008.  She has stayed in the public eye, and in the hearts of many women, as senator and secretary of state. She advocates for women's rights abroad and continues to use her considerable experience to raise awareness of women as leaders. Unlike her female predecessors at the State Department, she had the jump-start advantage of eight years in the U.S. Senate and another eight as a visible and outspoken first lady. She hit the ground running as secretary of state, and has kept up that pace for four long years.

In a December interview with Barbara Walters, Clinton declined the opportunity to announce her intentions for 2016. Instead, she spoke of being "exhausted" from visits to 112 countries during her four years as secretary of state, including 67 foreign trips in 2012. When pressed about her plans, she said, "Some of what I want to do is 'just kick back.'" In reference to a future career, she mentioned philanthropic and academic work but said "All doors are open." In other interviews, she has spoken of taking time to get healthy and lobby her daughter to make her a grandmother

This week, Public Policy Polling announced that their most recent survey shows that if Clinton ran in 2016, she would be "extremely difficult to beat" in the Democratic primary and general election. Her favorability among Democratic voters is +64.

Pew Research Center has measured Hillary Clinton's "favorability" since her position of First Lady in 2006. She has made significant comebacks after some unfavorable ratings; as of December 2012, her favorability had reached its highest point at a rating of 65%. Her lowest points were in 1994 when the national health plan was abandoned (50%), in 1996 after "Travelgate" (42%) when she was accused of improperly firing employees in the White House, and in 2008 at the end of a long primary when she pulled out of the race for her party's nomination for the presidential ticket (48%).

Her favorability rating in August, 1998, after President Clinton acknowledged his improper extramarital relationship, was 63%. She was admired for her strength and her ability to move on. And so she did. Only two years later she was elected senator by the voters of New York, and spent eight years working for her constituents.

Hillary Clinton is an energetic doer whose drive and convictions have led her through challenging times as candidate, wife, first lady, senator, and now secretary of state.  As senator, she advocated for aid to New York City following the September 11 attacks and supported the Iraq war. On January 22, she will testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the Benghazi attack, having been forced to postpone her December appearance due to complications from her illness. In recent years, she has deflected sexist, unfair and irrelevant hairstyle and couture criticism that no man in the same position would have received. 

Presidential candidates generally formally announce their plans to run at least one year before the election; they may have obvious intentions for many months or even years before that, having created exploratory committees. Bill Clinton announced his candidacy in October of 1991, barely one year before the 1992 election. President Obama announced his campaign for president in February, 2007, 21 months before the election. His speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, when he was an Illinois state senator, launched him into the public eye. He was elected to the Senate in 2004, just four years before he was elected president of the United States.

In January of 2007, Clinton announced her intention to run for president, posting "I'm in" on her website. After a heated primary, she ended her campaign for president shortly before her speech at the 2008 Democratic National Convention where Obama was confirmed as the party's candidate. She spoke with conviction about the importance of Democrats working together to win the election. And they did.

In 2012, Secretary Clinton missed her first Democratic National Convention since 1968, when Hubert Humphrey was nominated in Chicago. While her husband spoke to wildly enthusiastic crowd in Charlotte, Secretary Clinton watched from East Timor; when President Obama accepted the nomination the next day, she was in Brunei.

If she were to run in 2016, she would formally announce her intentions in 2014 or sooner. By 2014, she would need to have a fat and growing donor base. The 2012 candidates raised about $2 billion, up from about $1.8 in 2008. At best, she has a year to decide; many would say she needs to decide sooner and others speculate that she's never stopped running. But for the few months after she leaves the U.S. Department of State, a good bet is that we will see little of her as she takes the time she deserves to rest, restore her health, and contemplate the future. If she isn't installed as president of a major educational institution by the fall, we just might see her venturing back into politics. 

If the Democratic Party wants a woman to represent them on the ballot for president in 2016, the obvious choice is Hillary Clinton. Her experience is unequaled. If she wants to run, at age 69 (the same age Ronald Reagan, the oldest president, was when he was sworn in), and commit to the office and a very public life until she is at least 77 (assuming two terms), then she will need to decide soon. 

The tug to break the "ultimate" glass ceiling is a strong one. Not only could Clinton be the first woman to hold the office of president, but the first president who first served as first lady. It's a good bet that others will wait for a definitive Clinton announcement before deciding whether they will run, because the ultimate competition would come from Hillary Clinton.