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Thursday 8 December 2016

Hillary the sequel

She's packed a lot into the eight years since her defeat at the hands of Obama. So is she really ready this time, asks Debbie McGoldrick in the US

Published 19/04/2015 | 02:30

Former United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks to the media after keynoting a Women's Empowerment Event at the United Nations on March 10, 2015
Former United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks to the media after keynoting a Women's Empowerment Event at the United Nations on March 10, 2015
Barack Obama
John Fitzpatrick and Hillary Clinton

If all the cards had fallen into place in 2008, Hillary Rodham Clinton would be entering the lame duck phase that all second-term US presidents experience right about this time, when the candidates for the next election line up to make their case for the White House.

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An upstart named Barack Obama caused an eight-year detour in Hillary's preferred script, however, and now at the age of 67 she's rolling the dice one last time, determined to finish what she started, giving America the chance to wrap its arms around another historical presidency by electing the first female occupant of the Oval Office.

Clinton was the early favourite in 2008, but voters eventually deserted her. Her campaign was blindsided by the technological whizz kids working for Obama, and young voters who flocked to his campaign in droves, inspired by his stirring speeches and equally groundbreaking candidacy.

Clinton herself was also sending mixed messages - trading blows against her male opponents about issues like Iraq on one hand, then tearing up when talking about how tired she was from campaigning but vowing to persevere on the other.

There's no question Hillary Clinton has packed a lot into the eight years since her stinging loss. She played the good soldier and served Obama as his Secretary of State for four of them, travelling the world and shoring up her foreign policy credentials.

She and Bill became grandparents for the first time last September, doting over little Charlotte Clinton Mezvinsky. She wrote another autobiography, and collected chits from other Democrats across America by campaigning for them. (She and Bill remain the party's most prodigious fundraisers.)

And now here she is again, back on the cusp of history at an age when most are retiring, looking for another chance to prove that she is best suited to fight for "everyday Americans" - her new campaign's catchline - and their families who "make America strong."

Will Clinton be a better, more appealing candidate this time around, and will voters respond in kind?

Her supporters are certain she's emerged from the ashes of 2008 as a stronger, smarter contender who's ready like never before to take on the world's most pressurised job.

New York-based Irish hotelier John Fitzpatrick has been a close confidante of both Clintons for years, and is one of their most prominent fundraisers. He'll be a key member of Hillary's finance team for 2016 - her campaign expects to raise a staggering $2.5 billion. Fitzpatrick says Hillary is "110pc committed" to winning.

"Hillary puts her heart and soul into everything," says Fitzpatrick. "She's had a lot of time to reflect and learn and she's switched on. She knows what's coming at her and she's ready for it."

One of Clinton's few public appearances before declaring her candidacy last Sunday came on March 16 in New York, when she accepted a Hall of Fame award from Irish America magazine. She strode into the reception room at the Essex House Hotel with an air of confidence - no doubt bolstered by the chance to reconnect with many old Irish friends - and sense of purpose.

Posing for selfies and easily mingling with the crowd seemed to be a pleasure for her - activities that she'll have to embrace every day as her campaign takes flight in the American heartland where the first primaries occur early next year.

Clinton's buoyant speech to the Irish American audience provided a preview of two points she'll be stressing hard during her campaign - women's issues (she talked fondly about her friend, the late Irish human rights activist Inez McCormack), and chances for children (she was thrilled to accept an Aran sweater gift for Charlotte, and said it was imperative for all kids, no matter their means, to have the same opportunities in life that await her granddaughter).

The Clintons have always been a two-for-one package deal, a point they emphasised during Bill's first winning campaign in 1992. He is hailed by fans and opponents alike as a peerless political tactician, but managing his role as his wife goes forward will be a balancing act fraught with potential potholes.

Some of his efforts in 2008 were unhelpful to say the least. He alienated black voters when he compared Obama's victory in South Carolina to that of the Reverend Jesse Jackson, who won the state in his ultimately futile White House attempts, and he criticised Obama's stance on the war in Iraq as "the biggest fairytale I've ever seen."

Bill's gift for the gab is also unparalleled and tends to overshadow Hillary when both of them are onstage. Watching his evolving part in his wife's campaign will be the ultimate theatre for political junkies.

Hillary's campaign rollout video, unveiled last Sunday afternoon on social media when she finally confirmed her candidacy, showed a candidate who's ready to roll up her sleeves and take nothing for granted.

She's "hitting the road" to earn votes, and that's exactly what she did hours after the video debuted, piling a couple of close aides and Secret Service minders into a minivan for the long drive from New York to Iowa.

Team Hillary even made a stop in Ohio at popular fast food chain Chipotle where, believe it or not, she ate a chicken burrito bowl unrecognised. The restaurant's manager, Charles Wright, said his famous guest caused no fuss.

"The thing is, she has these dark sunglasses on," he explained, after viewing surveillance video that captured the potential president in his midst. "She just was another lady."

Those words will be music to her ears - though she'll never be just another ordinary, everyday American. A former First Lady, New York Senator and Secretary of State, it's now or never for Hillary, and she certainly seems raring to go.

She's shed some pounds - burritos notwithstanding - and looks much fresher than her time as Secretary of State when perpetual jet lag was the order of the day. Yoga has helped too, and being a grandmother, she says, has given her and Bill a huge amount of joy. No doubt baby Charlotte will at some point feature on the campaign trail, as Chelsea Clinton will be one of her mother's top advisers.

It's already open season in the rough and tumble world of presidential politics, and Hillary is everyone's favourite target. After three decades in the public eye there's plenty to take aim at - and nothing, at least at this point, that she hasn't heard before.

Conservative talk radio, hugely popular here, is loaded for bear. One grenade-thrower with a daily show, Michael Savage, said on Monday that Clinton will lose the race if voters judge her from the neck up. (Imagine a male candidate having to face the same scrutiny about his looks?)

John Fitzpatrick, who took part in a phone call on Monday with Clinton's campaign team, says he'll be doing his all to get out the Irish American vote.

"That's very important to Hillary," he says. "The thing about us is that we network and we spread the word. We're an important constituency. And we have lots to talk about when it comes to Hillary."

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