It is hard to imagine a more rarefied world or more envied - in political circles. By almost all measures, Hillary Rodham Clinton is the frontrunner for the 2016 presidential campaign.
She has popularity polls, committed crusaders and world recognition - just "Hillary" is enough to turn heads - in the palm of her hands. When the former first lady finally conceded the Democratic primary race to come-from-behind Barack Obama on June 7, 2008, she said: "Although we weren't able to shatter that highest, hardest glass ceiling this time, thanks to you, it's got about 18 million cracks in it."
Now, five years later, Hillary Clinton is clearly out front, if she chooses to run, with many hanging on her every word, or Tweet, as the case may be. Just this week, Clinton launched her first and fairly innocuous tweet, describing herself in her Twitter bio as "Wife, mom, lawyer, women & kids advocate, FLOAR [First Lady of Arkansas], FLOTUS [First Lady of the United States], US Senator, SecState, author, dog owner, hair icon, pantsuit aficionado, glass ceiling cracker, TBD..."
People tried to read between the lines. Did she start with "wife" and "mom" as a way to downplay her ambitions? Did she mention "hair icon" and "pantsuit aficionado" to show that indeed she can laugh at herself? And, does TBD mean she is going for the brass ring in 2016?
More questions were raised on Thursday at the Clinton Global Initiative conference in Chicago. In introducing his wife, Bill Clinton said how grateful he was that Hillary had joined the family business, renamed the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation. Mrs. Clinton told the crowd she was concerned about community institutions that "are crumbling" and "disconnected young men in our society." She said that her work at the Foundation would focus on three areas: early childhood development, expanded opportunities for women and children, and economic development.
Was this speech an opening salvo for 2016? Why did Mrs. Clinton barely mention President Barack Obama in her time on stage? Would the Foundation be her launching pad?
Hillary, in many respects, is sitting on top of the world right now, as Democrats and Republicans await her decision. She'll easily raise the money and get the staff, says Republican strategist Ed Rollins. Adds Kyle Kondik at the University of Virginia's Center for Politics, "Hillary's shadow looms over this field. On both sides."
There are some chinks in her armor, though. Several national polls in the past few weeks show a downward trend in Hillary Clinton's favorable rating. In Gallup she slipped to 58% from an earlier 64% in April, and in Bloomberg to 58% from 70% in December. One possible explanation is that Mrs. Clinton is being perceived as a political figure again, now that she is no longer serving as secretary of state. She resigned that post on Feb. 1, when John Kerry took over.
Another reason may be that she cannot shake the criticisms, mainly from the Right, that the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens in Benghazi, Libya, happened on her watch. Also, allegations surfaced this week that sexual misconduct investigations were suppressed at the State Department when Clinton was at the helm.
Right now, Hillary is the one to watch and take cues from for 2016, but does she have an Achilles' heel?Eileen Shields-West has served as a correspondent of TIME Magazine and has reported for CBS, CNN and NPR. She is author of The World Almanac of Political Campaigns, and edited and contributed to Choosing the Right Educational Path for Your Child, a book on 21st century schools.
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