Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton formally announced on Sunday that she is running for president in 2016, immediately establishing herself as not only the presumptive Democratic nominee in a thin Democratic field, but also the candidate to beat in the general election.
"I'm running for president," Clinton said towards the end of the two-minute video above, with a promise to be a "champion" for "everyday" Americans.
Unlike her 2008 campaign where she focused on her experience and positioned herself as the most qualified candidate, this time, Clinton wisely wants the election to be about the voters. "Americans have fought their way back from tough economic times, but the deck is still stacked in favor of those at the top," she says in the video, portraying herself as a fighter for the people -- a populist tone that progressives can appreciate.
She added what appears to be her central campaign message: "Every day Americans need a champion, and I want to be that champion, so you can do more than just get by. You can get ahead and stay ahead."
With Republicans gaining ground with middle-class voters as John Judis points out in a recent National Journal article titled, "The Emerging Republican Advantage," her campaign video struck the right tone in how it featured a diverse group of middle-class Americans: a single mom is moving to a new home so that her daughter can be in a better school, two Spanish-speaking brothers tell us they are starting a business, an African-American couple is expecting a baby boy, and another family is doing a home renovation project.
They all look happy and optimistic about the future. It's a message of hope. Things are not perfect, but they're getting better. And with Hillary as your champion, "you can get ahead and stay ahead." That's the message she's trying to get across.
It remains to be seen if she can bolster that message with policy proposals that will appeal to middle-class voters.
But despite some of her weaknesses -- polarizing figure, impulse for secrecy, may have difficulty selling herself as the candidate for the future -- Hillary is still the favorite to become the next president because she doesn't have a credible challenger in the Democratic primary and the electoral map is more favorable to Democrats in the general election.
History tells us that 2016 ought to be a Republican year since it's difficult for a political party to win a third consecutive term. But while history may be on the Republican side, the electoral map is not.
The GOP's biggest problem is that the Democratic nominee starts with 242 Electoral College votes, only 28 shy of the 270 needed to become president. There are 18 states and the District of Columbia that have voted Democratic in every presidential election since 1992, a total of 242 electoral votes: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin.
That is compared to only 13 states that have gone for Republicans in the last six consecutive presidential elections, for a total of only 102 electoral votes, which means Democrats have many more paths to get to 270. Looking back to the 2012 presidential election, for example, even if President Obama had lost the three swing states of Ohio, Florida and Virginia, he still would've been re-elected with 272 electoral votes to former Gov. Mitt Romney's 266.
The question is can any Republican presidential hopeful -- Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul or former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, to name a few -- build a winning coalition in 2016?
If Republicans really want to take back the White House, they should nominate a center-right, reform-minded candidate who can redefine conservatism in a way that is credible enough to arouse the passion of the GOP base and broad enough to attract independent and moderate voters. A compassionate conservative with a compelling personal narrative who will tread lightly on social issues like gay marriage and abortion, show empathy to the plight of working and middle-class families, and offer real solutions that will lead to upward mobility and prosperity.
That kind of Republican candidate will have a chance to win in 2016 and maybe, just maybe, stop Hillary from becoming the next president of the United States.