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Dan Balz

By Dan Balz, Chief Correspondent
April 11, 2015 at 12:08 PM

When Hillary Rodham Clinton arrives in Iowa next week as a candidate for president in 2016, every statement, gesture, laugh, outfit, facial expression and interaction with voters will be put under a microscope the likes of which few, if any, previous candidates have experienced.

Her every step will be analyzed for signs of change or continuity. Has she learned from her loss to then-candidate Barack Obama in the 2008 primaries? If so, what? Does she act entitled or hungry? Has she shifted on foreign policy issues since she was Obama’s secretary of state? Are her economic views the same as Obama’s or Bill Clinton’s or Elizabeth Warren’s? Does she appear to like campaigning or see it as a necessary duty to reach her ultimate goal? Is she rusty or sharp, chilly or warm? The list is endless.
Dan Balz is Chief Correspondent at The Washington Post. He has served as the paper’s National Editor, Political Editor, White House correspondent and Southwest correspondent. View Archive

Two questions above all others hover over her candidacy: Why does she want to be president? And will voters find her honest, authentic and empathetic enough to entrust her with their futures?

She begins her campaign in a politically dominant yet personally diminished position. She has no serious challengers for the Democratic nomination, yet many Democrats say they hope for real competition, whether to provide direction for their party or to prepare her for the general election. She leads her potential Republican rivals in some, but not all, polls, though those polls are not reliable predictors, given how early it is in the race.

At the same time, she is less well liked — and by a considerable margin — than she was two years ago as she was leaving the administration. That is to be expected, given the rhythms of campaign cycles, but nonetheless it’s something worrisome that she cannot ignore.

As secretary of state, she floated above politics and her favorability ratings rose with her. Back in the trenches in the past two years as a prospective candidate and amid controversies over some of her own statements and the uproar over her private e-mail account, she has lost altitude. She must arrest that movement, if she can, as she moves around the country as a candidate.

She will receive plenty of advice, from her advisers and the world at large, about how to answer the question of why she wants to be president. The cover of the latest issue of the Economist magazine features a picture of her with the words, “What does Hillary stand for?” As she assembled a campaign team, she has presumably been thinking about what to say about all that. It is what everyone wants to know.

Yet so much is known already. There is a decades-long résumé that offers answers, a record of battles fought and won or lost that point to priorities: women’s and children’s issues; economic policies somewhat to the left of her husband’s but not as far left as progressives would like; a focus on the middle class; a belief in education standards but caution about too much reform; a muscular foreign policy, including a vote for the Iraq war resolution that still rankles some in her party.

The unknowns are unknown in part because there are few easy answers to some of the questions people want answered. Exactly what is a 21st-century economic plan that can do something about stagnant wages and the lack of economic mobility? Clinton and her Republican rivals face the same quandary on this. It is easy to identify the problems, but difficult from either the left or the right to present plausible alternatives to each party’s old policies.

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