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Republican Challengers Focus on Clinton

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton attends The Hillary Rodham Clinton Awards for Advancing Women in Peace and Security, in the Riggs Library at Georgetown University in Washington, April 22, 2015.

Hillary Clinton may not have any rivals for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination as yet, but she is getting plenty of fire from a gaggle of eager Republican White House hopefuls.

Clinton took her campaign road show to New Hampshire this week where she continued what experts like to call her “soft launch” of a presidential campaign featuring listening sessions with voters and visits to coffee shops.

A few days earlier, 19 Republican current and potential presidential contenders flocked to New Hampshire to make their pitches to local Republican activists and one by one they took their shots at Clinton.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. arrives to announce the start of his presidential campaign, April 7, 2015, at the Galt House Hotel in Louisville, Ky.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. arrives to announce the start of his presidential campaign, April 7, 2015, at the Galt House Hotel in Louisville, Ky.

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, one of three official Republican candidates, focused on lingering questions about Clinton’s handling of a 2012 terrorist attack at a U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya.

“I think that her dereliction of duty, her not doing her job, her not providing security for our forces, for our diplomatic missions, should forever preclude her from holding higher office,” Paul said to cheers from those in the crowd.

Most of the other Republicans who spoke to the gathering also took shots at Clinton and it appears the Republican Party may be about to borrow a page from Democratic Barack Obama’s re-election campaign playbook from 2012.

The Obama campaign spent millions during the summer of 2012, well before the general election, to soften up Republican nominee Mitt Romney and depict him as out of touch with the average American. That strategy paid huge dividends in the fall campaign when Romney pulled closer in the polls, especially after the first presidential debate, but then faded near the end.

Clinton may have an advantage in having little Democratic competition at the moment, but Republicans hope their unrelenting attacks on her will pay off if she becomes the Democratic nominee next year.

Clinton’s economic focus

Clinton is determined to keep her focus on domestic issues, particularly jobs and the economy.

“We need to really add prestige and distinction to the work we need done in America,” she said. “And that is going to be a challenge, I’m aware of that, but I think it is a challenge worth taking on,” Clinton said at a roundtable discussion at a community college in Concord.

Clinton also sought to win over liberals with her focus on economic inequality.

“The deck is stacked in their favor,” she said at one point about the wealthy. She also expressed some qualms about President Obama’s push for a congressional fast track to consider the massive trade deal known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership and argued that any deal must have a positive impact on U.S. jobs and wages.

She also sought to sidestep questions about donations to the Clinton Foundation and the recent email controversy when she spoke to reporters in Keene, New Hampshire.

“We will be subjected to all kinds of distractions and attacks,” she said. “I’m ready for that. I know that comes, unfortunately, with the territory.”

Clinton’s trip to New Hampshire was the second installment of the soft rollout of her campaign designed to have her do more listening and de-emphasize the fact she is a huge frontrunner for her party’s nomination.

A report in Politico by Jack Shafer described the campaign as Clinton’s “unrun” for the presidency.

“Listening is the epitome of unrunning, allowing a candidate to do nothing at all but remain operational,” Shafer wrote.

Clinton is the only announced Democrat in the 2016 race so far and opinion polls show she is a strong favorite for the party nomination.

But Clinton is also trying to succeed fellow Democrat Obama in the White House at a time when voters seem to want to change.

“At a time when people are enormously dissatisfied with Washington and with the status quo, she has got to be not Washington,” said analyst Charlie Cook of the Cook Political Report. “She has got to be non-status quo and presidential elections tend to be about the future.”

No Bush coronation

Republicans seem inclined to blast away at Clinton for the time being instead of each other, but that will change.

Former Florida governor Jeb Bush answers questions after speaking at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Feb. 18, 2015, in Chicago.
Former Florida governor Jeb Bush answers questions after speaking at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Feb. 18, 2015, in Chicago.

Former Florida governor Jeb Bush is the closest thing to a frontrunner in the Republican field, but his lead in national polls is slim and he could have trouble with conservative voters who make up a large percentage of those who take part in the first presidential test early next year, the Iowa party caucuses.

During the recent Republican summit in New Hampshire, Bush was confronted by a woman activist in the audience who warned him that the party is in no mood to hand him the nomination.

“I don’t want a coronation on our side by any stretch of the imagination,” she said as Bush took questions on stage. “I don’t see any coronation coming my way, trust me.”

Bush responded with smile.

Bush was one of the 19 White House hopefuls who spoke in New Hampshire and it’s expected he could join the list of official candidates as early as June.

Many others showed up to gauge support for a potential bid including real estate mogul Donald Trump, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina and Ohio Governor John Kasich.

“In this time we need a strong America to send a message to our enemies and also to send a message to our strength that America is back and this can be done,” said Kasich, who added after the event that he is “more and more serious” about a White House run next year.

A large Republican field with no clear frontrunner could mean a long and divisive battle for the party nomination, said Republican analyst Scot Faulkner.

“I don’t really see anyone yet who has risen to that standard where what they are saying causes people to stop and say, my God, you are articulating something about what America could become or what the world could become,” he said.

But then again that is what five months of primary and caucus votes will be about next year.

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    Jim Malone

    Jim Malone has served as VOA’s National correspondent covering U.S. elections and politics since 1995. Prior to that he was a VOA congressional correspondent and served as VOA’s East Africa Correspondent from 1986 to 1990. Jim began his VOA career with the English to Africa Service in 1983.