For Hillary Clinton, the question of 2016 has never been if she would run, but rather when she would announce her candidacy. Recent speculation, fueled by Clinton's decision to step down as secretary of state in February and stand apart from the Obama administration's second term, has centered on just when she will form her 2016 presidential exploratory committee and who her advisors will be this time around.
Amongst some senior Democratic strategists, including Patti Solis Doyle and Howard Wolfson who were key figures in her 2008 campaign, the real question is whether Clinton has the energy to pick up the threads from her last presidential bid and carry the Democrats through to a third consecutive term. This would be a feat not achieved by the party since the heady days of the pre-22nd-Amendment Roosevelt/Truman presidencies.
Although recent polling data from GALLUP has shown a downturn in Clinton's favourability ratings, down to 58% in June from 64% in April, she remains the most popular official associated with the Obama administration. Indeed her popularity now is higher than at any time during her 2008 presidential campaign and some 21 points ahead of Vice President Biden.
This is in contrast to her historic popularity ratings, in the doldrums throughout most of the early 2000s, which saw the then-First-Lady Clinton's favourability at a peak of 67% in 1999 in the wake of the Lewinski scandal.
In the run-up to the 2008 election, Clinton's poll numbers continued to show strength, with her supporters remaining loyal to the end; at final tally Hillary Clinton had a total of 1,920 pledged delegates to Barack Obama's 2,158. Whilst Obama led Clinton in delegates won through state contests, Clinton emerged with a greater total share of the popular vote taking, 48.04% to Obama's 47.31%. And let’s not forget who won Ohio ...
In a reduced role since stepping down as secretary of state, Hillary Clinton has never quite been out of the public eye. There is little doubt over whether President Obama would support his former secretary of state in her bid for the Democratic presidential nomination; recently under fire over what she and the Obama administration knew about Benghazi, albeit with substantial White House support and protection, she has emerged with that Reagan-esque "Teflon" quality via which bad news doesn't stick for long. Does anyone remember Ollie North?
"With eyes firmly fixed on the future, in the spirit of unity, with the goal of victory, with faith in our party and our country, let's declare together in one voice, right here, right now, that Barack Obama is our candidate and he will be our president."
— Hillary Clinton calls for the nomination by acclamation of her rival
Through her proclamation and the suspension of the roll call vote at the 2008 Democratic National Convention, the Democrats were able to unify under one banner and put rivalry aside to promote a united front for the real election fight against the Republicans; Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama would stand side-by-side against whatever the GOP threw forwards.
In a compact that goes back to the final days of her campaign, here's the Clinton plan:
1. Hillary Clinton agrees to publicly support Barack Obama for President for two full terms to roll-back Bush-era legislation and institute long-cherished Democratic policies (healthcare for one) in return for being Obama’s appointed successor.
2. To avoid associating Hillary with expected backlash from Republicans on key domestic issues (healthcare, immigration, gay rights) Joe Biden is appointed as a two-term "solid hands" Vice President who won’t challenge Clinton as the primary successor.
3. Biden is seen as a steady and experienced statesman who would be too old in 2016 to consider running but speculation that he may run will keep some rival Democrats from declaring early (or at all) in the expectation that the 2016 Democratic primaries will be a Biden/Clinton battle.
4. Clinton takes the position of secretary of state for one term to stay in the public eye in a positive role abroad, with Obama committing to limit involvement in unnecessary warfare, promote democracy, and restore relations with Russia, Middle East, and Israel (to name a few).
5. Obama agrees, in return, to limit Clinton's exposure to politically-damaging issues facing the administration and have responsibility fall upon the White House where possible (especially within his second term to shift blame away).
6. Clinton agrees to step down after one term to prepare for her presidential bid whilst John Kerry, the other key potential Democratic candidate, is kept busy by being nominated as secretary of state for Obama's second term.
A true dynastic Democratic succession, in the manner of the Kennedys.
Ultimately the decision to form a presidential exploratory committee will rest with Hillary Clinton; her considerable support at grass-roots and party level combined with her standing versus any other candidate at the moment (including Chris Christie for the Republicans) would suggest she is the leading contender for now. For Democrats, her nomination would mean securing the healthcare, immigration, and civil rights expansions of the previous eight years ... and there is still the matter of a certain glass ceiling waiting to be broken.