Hillary Clinton, who gave a high-profile speech in Washington on Thursday, is years away from running for president and still may eventually opt against a campaign. But over the last several months, she’s positioned herself for a potential candidacy in two interesting ways.
1. A 100 percent Obama supporter
Former President Clinton, in a closed-door session in June, suggested Obama’s Syria policy was not working. Leon Panetta, who ran the CIA and then the Defense Department under Obama, criticized the president’s strategy in the recent battle over the debt ceiling and the government shutdown. A number of Democrats in Congress are now attacking the Obama administration for the roll-out of HealthCare.gov.
But not Hillary. Since she left the State Department, Hillary Clinton, at least publicly, has only praised her one-time rival and then boss, Obama. When Obama was considering a military strike again Syria, Clinton backed it, even as the move became so unpopular Obama eventually abandoned the idea. Obama’s back and forth on Syria and the flawed healthcare roll-out have provided Clinton easy, convenient opportunities to distance herself from an increasingly unpopular administration, if not Obama personally.
But Clinton has not said a negative word about Obama or his team’s handling of either situation and publicly backed their strong stance against Republicans during budget negotiations.
“I think they (Republicans) ought to go back and read history. Because I will just say that it wouldn’t be the worst thing for Democrats if they try to shut the government down. We’ve seen that movie before,” Clinton said during a panel at the Clinton Global Initiative last month, echoing Obama’s views on the eve of the government shutdown.
It’s unlikely Clinton will take this posture for the next four years and never criticize Obama, but she is taking the approach for now of remaining tightly aligned with a president who is still very popular with the Democratic base.
2. Embracing key causes of the Democratic base
Clinton has mostly given paid speeches to groups or addresses to non-partisan audiences, such as one earlier this month at Yale Law School.
But she’s also made moves that will curry favor with Democrats and show her support for key party causes. While much has been made of Clinton’s longtime friendship with Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic activist and 2008 Clinton campaign chair who is now running to be Virginia’s governor, Clinton also stopped in Virginia to campaign for McAuliffe for less personal reasons: McAuliffe is a Democrat running in a tight race in a key swing state; his opponent, Republican Ken Cuccinelli, is an ardent conservative and strong opponent of abortion rights; and the winner of this race is likely to determine if Virginia eventually expands its Medicaid program under “Obamacare” and covers thousands of low-income residents. Clinton has also publicly backed Bill de Blasio, the Democrat likely to be elected mayor of New York next month.
In one of her few policy speeches since leaving the State Department, Clinton, in an address in August, blasted Republican-backed proposals to require photo IDs to vote and limit early voting hours in blunt, pointed language that Obama rarely uses. She called a controversial new voting law in North Carolina that cuts early voting there by a week and eliminates same-day registration as a “greatest hits of voter suppression.” The speech showed her awareness that voting rights, a cause of the 1960s that had diminished from the public debate in recent years, is now a huge issue for many civil rights activists and African-American leaders in the wake of GOP legislation that those leaders argue is a threat to the right to vote.