Hillary Rodham Clinton was on a campaign road trip deep into the US heartland yesterday after launching her bid to become the first woman to win the White House with a pledge to champion “everyday Americans.”
With an eye to putting behind her the jet-set image of a former first lady, US secretary of state and global charity director, Clinton boarded a simple minivan as she headed from New York to Iowa.
A few hours into the surprise, 1,600km journey, the 67-year-old Democrat tweeted a picture of herself meeting a family at a Pennsylvania gas station.
“When Hillary first told us that she was ready to hit the road for Iowa, we looked at her and said: ‘Seriously?’ And she said: ‘Seriously,’” senior aide Huma Abedin said.
“This was her idea and she has been really excited about it. We’ve been driving for a good part of today,” she added, in a conference call on Sunday from the road for supporters and reporters.
Long assumed to be the frontrunner for her Democratic Party’s presidential nomination for next year’s race, Clinton’s formal entry unleashed her formidable fund-raising machine and social media operation.
Clinton, who lost the Democratic nomination to US President Barack Obama in 2008, put an end to the pantomime surrounding the worst-kept secret in US politics by posting an ad on her Facebook page and Web site, and sending links to her 3 million Twitter followers.
“I’m running for president,” a beaming Clinton said in a slickly produced video that went viral. “Everyday Americans need a champion and I want to be that champion.”
The two-minute clip featured upbeat middle-class families from a variety of backgrounds sharing their aspirations.
Her campaign said Clinton would spend the next six to eight weeks building a grassroots organization and “engaging directly with voters.”
Her first major rally and the speech that kicks off her campaign are not expected until next month, but Clinton’s road trip — the van has reportedly been nicknamed “Scooby,” from the classic cartoon — is set to take her to meet small groups of voters in Iowa.
In Iowa, the first state to vote in an election year, Clinton is to talk “about how to make the economy work so everyday Americans and their families can actually get ahead and stay ahead.”
“We can’t take anything for granted and we’ll have to fight really hard for every single vote, and that obviously starts in the primaries,” campaign manager Robby Mook said. “Hillary got into this race to fight for everyday Americans.”
Confirmation she is running will trigger a donation deluge from supporters, who have long waited for her to officially enter the race, but it also sparked a fierce Republican response.
The Republican National Committee said Clinton “has left a trail of secrecy, scandal and failed policies that can’t be erased from voters’ minds.”
“We must do better than Hillary,” tweeted former Florida governor Jeb Bush, a likely Republican opponent, foreshadowing the intense back-and-forth expected to play out on social media in the run-up to the election in November next year.
Clinton’s campaign-in-waiting has quietly been organized for months, bringing in key staffers and advisers, plotting outreach operations and strategizing.
On Saturday, she earned praise from Obama, who said she would make “an excellent president,” but experts warn she will have to tread a fine line in how closely she aligns herself with the incumbent, whose approval ratings have lingered below 50 percent for two years.
The soft rollout — a folksy, but upbeat video, low-key small gatherings with heartland voters — marks a deviation from the Clinton Inc juggernaut that ultimately failed in 2008.
The one-time senator and wife of former US president Bill Clinton leads opinion polls among Democrats, about 60 percent of whom say they would vote for her in the primaries, according to Web site RealClearPolitics.
A humble approach might ease doubts about Hillary Clinton after it was revealed she used a private e-mail account while US secretary of state from 2009 to 2013 and that her family’s charitable foundation accepted millions of US dollars from foreign governments.
Shortly after the campaign launch, Clinton left the board of the family foundation led by her husband.
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