The Hillary Clinton road show is getting underway.
Clinton has begun promoting her new book “Hard Choices” and the timing could not be better if she decides to run for president in 2016.
Clinton has kept a relatively low profile for the past several months, doing an occasional paid speech and taking limited questions from audiences.
But the book tour will propel her into the spotlight in a big way and will be an early test of those high public opinion poll ratings she has enjoyed since she stepped aside as President Barack Obama’s secretary of state last year.
“Hard Choices” is Clinton’s take on her tenure as America’s top diplomat. But she is also quick to revisit the most controversial vote of her Senate career, the 2002 decision to authorize the Iraq war.
Clinton wrote that “I thought I had acted in good faith and made the best decision I could with the information I had. And I wasn’t alone in getting it wrong. But I still got it wrong. Plain and simple.”
It was that vote that caused Clinton enormous political problems during her 2008 presidential campaign, a major fault line for Democrats who eventually chose underdog Senator Barack Obama as their nominee.
Clinton appears to be making one more attempt to shore up support among liberal and progressive activists within the Democratic Party, hoping to avoid a repeat of the problems she encountered in 2008 if she decides to run again in 2016.
Strong poll ratings
Americans generally give Clinton high marks for her stewardship of foreign policy and that should be a major asset if she makes the decision to run for the White House two years from now.
A Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 59 percent of those asked approved of how she handled the job of secretary of state, while 34 percent disapproved. In addition, 67 percent agreed with the notion that Clinton is a strong leader and 60 percent said she is honest and trustworthy.
The latest polls also show Clinton is a huge favorite for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination if she runs.
The Post-ABC poll found she has the support of 69 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independent voters, with Vice President Joe Biden a distant second at 12 percent.
George Washington University political scientist John Sides said Clinton is in the strongest position of any potential Democratic nominee in recent history. And in terms of potential matchups with Republican presidential candidates, Clinton would beat both New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and former Florida governor Jeb Bush by 12 points, and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul by 10 points.
But Republicans are wasting little time in putting out information that seeks to counter the Clinton record as secretary of state.
A Republican political action committee called America Rising has released an e-book called “Failed Choices” that criticizes Clinton’s tenure for “caution that comes from a calculating politician” as well as “poor judgment.”
Republicans will continue to hone in on the 2012 terrorist attacks on the U.S. mission at Benghazi, Libya, which occurred on Clinton’s watch. A special House committee is moving ahead with hearings that should keep that issue in the political spotlight for months to come.
Republicans may also raise questions about Clinton’s health.
Republican strategist Karl Rove got the ball rolling recently when he questioned if Clinton was fully recovered from a fall late in 2012 that led to a concussion and blood clot.
Clinton says she is in good health and notes that a potential Republican presidential contender, Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan, talked with her about his own experiences with concussions.
For the most part, “Hard Choices” depicts Clinton as a loyal confidante of the president during her tenure.
On Syria, which she calls “a wicked problem” in the book, she did favor a more aggressive approach, arguing in favor of arming and training moderate Syrian rebels. She lost that debate.
But she does take a measure of satisfaction in writing that she was an early supporter of the secret raid that killed Osama bin Laden even as some other top administration officials like Vice President Joe Biden and Defense Secretary Bob Gates urged caution.
But if she decides to move ahead on a presidential run next year, Clinton will be faced with the challenge of putting some distance between herself and President Obama.
President Obama’s approval ratings remain low and traditionally voters are looking for change after a two-term president. Clinton will be faced with the task of reminding voters of the positive achievements of the Obama presidency and at the same time setting out how she would be different, not only in foreign policy but in domestic policy as well.
Clinton is in a strong position politically at the moment. She does not have to constantly weigh in on the political issues of the day and to a great extent she can ride above the petty partisan fights and maintain a cool detachment.
The longer she can avoid being dragged into the daily political commentary, the better off she will be. Clinton told ABC that she probably will make a decision by early in 2015.
“I’m going to decide when it feels right for me to decide,” she told ABC’s Diane Sawyer.
Once she decides, and assuming it’s a go, she won’t get to hide behind the “I’m still thinking about it” line any longer.
Clinton pros and cons
If she runs she’ll be a huge favorite. But she’s been in this position before and it didn’t work out so well.
That means not taking anything for granted and that starts with a strong showing in Iowa, where she stumbled against candidate Obama in 2008.
Already the Clinton effort looks better organized this time around.
The group “Ready for Hillary” has been laying the groundwork for months and her bid to become the first woman president should energize numerous Democratic activists, some of whom have become disenchanted with the Obama presidency.
In addition, she can bring to bear the number one campaigner in the Democratic Party, her husband, former President Bill Clinton. He remains popular among Democrats and independent voters and should be a force on the campaign trail, both in this year’s midterm congressional elections and in the 2016 presidential cycle.
Speaking of the midterms, Hillary Clinton will be in demand this fall as well.
Numerous Democratic candidates have already asked for her help both in terms of personal appearances and fundraising. She will have to decide how much campaigning she wants to do this year.
On one hand, helping Democrats and getting out on the trail could help her in two years with plenty of eager activists willing to pay her back. On the other, too much exposure before she actually decides on 2016 could backfire a bit, undoing her current strategy of maintaining the aura of mystery and being above it all until the time comes when she absolutely must decide what she’ll do next.
In her book, Clinton writes that “the time for another hard choice will come soon enough.”
The next chapter in the Hillary Clinton saga is about to begin.