Hillary Rodham Clinton says she is “very much concerned” about the direction of the U.S. but says she is still considering her future plans.
During a recent session of the Clinton Global Initiative University, a young woman asked Clinton whether she would consider running for president in 2016.
The student said if Clinton wouldn’t represent women in politics, “who will?”
That got a roar of approval from the 1,000-plus students attending the event.
The former secretary of state said she is concerned about the direction of the nation but added that “it’s not just who runs for office” but what they do once they get there.
Clinton smiled and told the crowd that she was “obviously thinking about all kinds of decisions.”
The annual university conference sponsored by the Clinton Global Initiative is offering a window into the enthusiasm that Clinton might tap into if she runs for president again.
At universities, Clinton often appeals to young voters’ idealism and encourages civic participation. She also raises the kind of powerful symbolism — her potential breakthrough as the first female president of the United States — that helped propel Barack Obama’s history-making campaign in 2008 to become the nation’s first black president.
In 2008, Clinton wasn’t the first choice of college students during the Democratic primaries; young voters supported Obama by wide margins.
Clinton’s allies are setting up a voter outreach operation that could enable her to connect with young voters and build upon the Obama campaign’s success in courting women, African-Americans, Latinos, and gays and lesbians.
This time, they say, will be different.
“I don’t think you’re going to have this contrast in a Democratic primary that you had in 2008. I think there will be a ton of enthusiasm” for a potential Clinton candidacy, said Mitch Stewart, a former Obama campaign aide who now advises Ready for Hillary, a super political action committee that’s building support for a potential 2016 race.
“If she were decide to run, there would be an historic element to her candidacy as well that I think young people would want to be a part of,” he said.
Running in 2008, Obama had several advantages with young voters: his opposition to the war in Iraq; the historic nature of his candidacy; a hip, next-generation profile; and a team that aggressively organized college students.
Clinton was hampered by her 2002 vote in the Senate to authorize the Iraq war, which young Democrats vociferously opposed. While both campaigns offered the potential of a barrier-breaking presidency, Clinton often played up her experience and competency more than her gender.
This time, super PACs such as Ready for Hillary are trying to build on the voting coalition Obama put in place. The group’s website encourages activists to use social networks like Facebook and Twitter as an organizing tool, identifying potential Clinton supporters long before a campaign begins.
How young voters perceive Clinton could shape how Republicans would challenge her.
Some potential Republican candidates have hoped to paint a generational contrast between Clinton, 66, and a likely younger Republican field that could include senators Rand Paul, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, and Rep. Paul Ryan. All came of age during Ronald Reagan’s presidency.
Republicans also have signaled their interest of using Clinton’s post-White House life, in which she often travels by private jet, to portray her as far removed from the daily problems of most Americans.
When the former first lady told auto dealers in January that she hadn’t driven a car since 1996, Republicans pounced, offering it up as a sign of someone out of step with most voters.
“It’s hard to make the sale that Hillary has firsthand experience of the problems that young people are facing with the economy,” said Tim Miller, executive director of America Rising, a Republican super PAC that has tracked Clinton’s every move.
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