An early look at the 2016 Democratic presidential contenders
Clinton's message in Mideast: Restore the calm
There's Hillary, and then there's everybody else. The secretary of state -- also a former senator and first lady -- who lost a bruising battle for the nomination to Mr. Obama in 2008 is such a force that she is already scoring 2016 endorsements. Early polls out of Florida, Iowa and New Hampshire all show Clinton as the clear favorite at this point, and the conventional wisdom is that if she decides to enter the race, it will be extremely difficult for another candidate to keep her from the nomination.
Clinton's decision to accept the secretary of state job in the administration of her former rival - and her tireless and well received performance as the nation's top diplomat - have only increased her appeal, and the fact that she would have popular former President Bill Clinton beside her on the campaign trail makes for a powerful potential one-two punch. The prospect of electing the first female president in American history would also galvanize support for Clinton.
Obama salutes Clinton for her service
All this doesn't mean that Clinton will definitely become the nominee, however. For starters, she flatly maintains that she doesn't actually want the job - and her grueling schedule as secretary of state suggests she might be serious. Yet Clinton is expected to soon step down from her position, giving her ample time to recharge her batteries. And the fact that her husband maintains he has "no earthly idea" if she will run suggests she has not truly closed the door on the idea.
Another potential stumbling block is Clinton's center-left political ideology, which could clash with a Democratic Party that may be moving left -- as embodied by the 2012 victories of Senators-elect Elizabeth Warren, Tammy Baldwin and Chris Murphy. It's also possible that she will become consumed by some sort of scandal: It could very well have been Clinton, not Susan Rice, who made the early comments on the Benghazi attack that have landed Rice in hot water and threatened her potential nomination to succeed Clinton as secretary of state.
Ultimately, however, the nomination is widely seen as Clinton's for the taking. She would likely have a massive fundraising advantage over her rivals to go with reservoirs of goodwill she has built up in the years since she vowed on "60 Minutes" in 1992 that she is "not sitting here as some little woman standing by my man like Tammy Wynette." If Clinton makes clear she will run, the big names in the potential 2016 Democratic field may simply decide to sit this one out.
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