Hillary Clinton Grabs Early Lead In The World Primary

05/29/2015 12:00 pm ET | Updated May 30, 2015
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WASHINGTON -- This April, London was in the grip of a ferocious campaign for Parliament. But on the morning of April 13, neither Conservative David Cameron nor Labourite Ed Miliband led the front pages of the U.K.'s national newspapers. The big news that day was Hillary Clinton, announcing (to no one’s surprise) that she was running for president of the United States.

And so far, she seems to be winning the race overseas.

A recent YouGov poll found that 61 percent of Britons and 59 percent of Germans have a positive opinion of Clinton, while just 20 percent and 24 percent, respectively, see her in a negative light. Fifty percent of Britons and 51 percent of Germans think it would be good for the world if she were elected president.

The former secretary of state is also a hit elsewhere around the world. In Canada, admirers stood in line for nearly 20 hours last year for signed copies of her book. Her speaking fees may be controversial in the U.S., but she spoke to sold-out crowds Up North who were happy to pay.

A Huffington Post examination of Clinton's reputation -- conducted by the HuffPost editions in the U.K., Canada, India, France, Italy, Germany and Greece -- found that Clinton is both widely known and well-regarded for her life story: a feminist, wife and mother with a decades-long career as a public figure in U.S. politics and global foundation work.

Interviews and media reports in those countries produce a portrait of an experienced, durable, almost obsessively well-traveled member of the U.S. establishment, toughened by hard personal times -- a solid, if not glamorous, figure.

To officials and voters alike in those countries, the possibility of a Clinton presidency doesn't suggest radical policy changes. Rather, they see in Clinton a steady hand and a social inspiration.

She was a "proactive Secretary of State," said Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, a German who is vice president of the European Parliament, "very important experience, especially in the age of globalization and in times of major geopolitical shifts." Her "left-leaning" policies are similar to President Barack Obama's, he said, "but as the first woman in the highest office in the U.S. she would be a great inspiration for women and girls all over the world."

In Spain, Greece, Italy and elsewhere, the move has been toward “scrap-heaping” the aging political classes, said Lia Quartapelle, a younger member of the Italian Parliament. But that impulse doesn’t apply to the 67-year-old Clinton, she said.

“Hillary is considered an extremely experienced politician,” Quartapelle said. “Her candidacy might prove to be a reassuring element for a country that still shows some last signs of crisis. Her candidacy could count on this image of grandmother-in-chief.”

Clinton is admired -- or at least respected -- for her decades of world travel as first lady, U.S. senator and secretary of state. But officials and regular citizens alike were vague at best, suspicious at worst, when asked to judge her accomplishments and strategic vision as secretary of state.

“As secretary of state, Hillary didn’t make any particular impression in Italy, neither positive nor negative,” said Guido Moltedo, an Italian journalist and essayist. “Her stature was neither heightened nor diminished.”

In America, much of the media and all of her enemies focus on the cash that the nonprofit Clinton Foundation has raised and on the emails that she has (or has not) disclosed. They muse on whether she is too suffocatingly familiar an establishment figure to satisfy the American yen for “change.” They wonder about the benefits and risks of her long, sometimes tumultuous marriage to Bill Clinton.

But the various HuffPost sites found that the same life history that makes her vulnerable at home renders her a credible, popular and even reassuring figure abroad.

Voters around the world may not know the details of Clinton’s State Department emails, but they know -- and remain surprisingly moved by -- the sordid Monica Lewinsky saga of nearly two decades ago. While U.S. feminists have criticized her for standing by her man, that sentiment doesn't seem to be widely shared elsewhere. Indeed, Clinton is more likely to be praised for moving beyond the Lewinsky years.

“Hillary Clinton has a rather favorable image in France based on how she dealt with the Lewinsky scandal,” said HuffPost France’s Maxime Bourdeau, as well as "how she bounced back by following her own political career.” That whole episode, he said, “was seen here as a private matter that should never have become as huge as it did in the U.S.”

In Italy, according to Moltedo, “Italian women recognize that ... she faced down a decidedly complicated situation with courage and maturity.”

Clinton's familiarity with and around the globe may be welcomed in a world weary of surprises from presidents who were either disastrously ignorant (George W. Bush) or precariously naïve (Obama).

Just as Britons readily offer an opinion of her, she knows the U.K. well. Clinton campaign advisers were key players in those recent elections, and she is close to the Milibands.

India is another place where Clinton looks good.

“Hillary Clinton has a positive image in India, mainly because of her engagement with the region,” said HuffPost India’s Anirvan Ghosh. “She is perceived as having a good understanding of the issues facing South Asia.”

A top Clinton adviser, the late Richard Holbrooke, was deeply involved in the region, and the Clinton Foundation's work gives her a different insight into India’s grassroots problems. As a result, Ghosh thinks that a President Hillary Clinton would “continue the recent momentum and push for greater cooperation” with India.

Her familiarity with other areas of the world is a relief to international policymakers. “Hillary has always paid close attention to trans-Atlantic relationships,” said Moltedo. “The same cannot be said for her Republican adversaries.”

Marietta Giannakou, a former member of the European Parliament from Greece, sees Clinton as part of the team that has been moving the U.S. away from Bush’s my-way-or-the-highway approach. Or as Giannakou put it, the Obama administration’s “departure from a less monolithic and unilateral stance towards a more discursive and multilateral approach to global and regional issues.”

Views of Clinton appear to be tempered by views of the U.S. more broadly -- not surprising for an establishment figure.

“Nobody can credibly say whether or not the world and the United States in particular would benefit from another eventual President Clinton,” said Massimo Teodori, an Italian historian, politician and writer. “One thing is for sure: The next president will have to completely redesign the United States’ role in a multipolar world. No one wants us to return to the use of force and 'imperial' arrogance that we’ve sometimes seen come into play during the 20 years following the end of the Cold War.”

A certain degree of skepticism likewise arises in conversations with Greeks. Young professionals and students there seem divided between personal respect for Clinton’s toughness and doubts about her as a politician.

“She is a dynamic woman who seems unstoppable,” said Victoria Alexiou, an architect and interior designer. “But on the other hand, she is a Machiavellist who will do anything to get what she wants. She was keen on the imperialist policies [of the past presidents].”

Maria Chatzianagnostou, a student at the University of Athens, was more upbeat.

“Hillary Clinton is a strong woman who can sustain a political career,” she said. “She managed to comply with the demanding duties of her position. Her election could be a good thing.”

And observers on the left, whether in Athens or Berlin, see one other chief virtue in Clinton: the electoral power to keep the other side out of the the White House.

"All that will happen is that she will be the first woman to occupy the office," said Katja Kipping, chairperson of the Left Party in the Bundestag, "and that, luckily, no Republican will win the election."

Christoph Asche contributed reporting from Munich, Giulia Belardelli from Rome, Maxime Bourdeau from Paris, Anirvan Ghosh from New Delhi, Jennifer MacMillan from Toronto, Marialena Perpiraki from Athens and Ned Simons from London.

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