Hillary Clinton Launching Presidential Run

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Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., has announced that she is forming an exploratory committee for president, thereby launching a bid to become the first female chief executive of the United States.

"I'm in," she said on a Web site, hillaryclinton.com. "And I'm in to win.

"As a senator, I will spend two years doing everything in my power to limit the damage George W. Bush can do," Clinton's statement added. "But only a new president will be able to undo Bush's mistakes and restore our hope and optimism."

While the timing of the news was a closely guarded secret, the announcement itself is not all together surprising. The junior senator from New York has been considering a presidential run for months.

During a televised debate just before her re-election to the Senate last November, Clinton told voters they should not count on her completing a full six-year Senate term.

Many political watchers consider Clinton the Democrat to beat -- particularly given her prolific fundraising abilities. Associates of Clinton say she will be capable of raising tens of millions of dollars in the year to come.

Clinton enjoys a substantial early lead for the nomination. In an ABC News/Washington Post poll last month, she was supported by 39 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, well ahead of her nearest competitors -- Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., with 17 percent support; former Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., with 12 percent; and former Vice President Al Gore, 10 percent.

Clinton's support is particularly strong among Democratic women; 49 percent favor her for the nomination, compared with 29 percent of Democratic men.

But Clinton herself has also frequently acknowledged that there will be a "vigorous debate" prior to the next presidential election. And Clinton will be anxious to distinguish herself from the other leading candidates -- Obama and Edwards.

This past week, Clinton made a highly-publicized trip to Iraq, where she met with top U.S. commanders. During that trip, she told ABC News' Jonathan Karl the situation in Iraq is "heartbreaking."

"I don't know that the American people or the Congress at this point believe this mission can work," she told ABC News.

After returning to the United States, Clinton proposed legislation to cap the number of American troops serving in Iraq and to begin a redeployment of troops out of Baghdad, and eventually out of Iraq. She also supports putting conditions on the money being spent in Iraq.

Obama proposed similar legislation the following day. He often points to the fact that he never supported the war in the first place. Clinton did vote to authorize the use of force in 2002.

Prior to Clinton's proposal for legislation, Edwards leveled indirect criticism at Clinton for not taking bolder action to oppose the war. In a speech commemorating Martin Luther King, Jr., he said: "If you're in Congress and you know that this war is going in the wrong direction, and you know that we should not escalate this war in Iraq, it is no longer okay to study your options and keep your own private counsel."

ABC News' political director Mark Halperin and the ABC News polling unit contributed to this report.

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