June 22, 2014

Former first lady Hillary Clinton in Kansas City today

Hillary is in Kansas City today to talk about her book.

Hillary is in Kansas City today to talk about her book.

A last name isn’t necessary.

In 2014, Hillary Rodham Clinton — former first lady, U.S. senator and U.S. secretary of state — resides in the rare public space of single-namehood, like Pelé or Elvis.

And soon, thank you very much, Hillary may be running again for president.

“Obviously, we’ve never had a woman president,” observed Missouri Sen. Jolie Justus, a Democrat. “She, right now, looks like the best shot for that to happen. …

“The pressure is extraordinary.”

For the record, Clinton’s trip to Kansas City’s Midland theater today is simply part of a multiweek blitz for her latest book, “Hard Choices.” Asked repeatedly if she will run for president in 2016, Clinton has repeatedly demurred.

But many leading Democrats in Missouri and Kansas assume she’ll run. The recent series of televised town hall meetings, network interviews and book signings, they say, is probably a preview of the grueling campaign ahead.

“She’s not running until she says she is,” said Roy Temple, chairman of the Missouri Democratic Party, “but if you had to bet, you’d be smarter to bet she does.”

Politicians are also parsing the chances of a Clinton candidacy in the two states. Their early verdict? Kansans are unlikely to back any Democrat, but Clinton has the best chance of anyone in her party to close the electoral gap in increasingly red-state Missouri.

Already the machinery of a modern national campaign is lumbering into place.

A Hillary Clinton for President 2016 Facebook page has nearly 400,000 likes. Twitter has VoteHillary2016. What about a website? Try

An independent political action committee called Ready for Hillary is raising and spending money, and members are expected at the Midland today. Other groups have formed: Hillary 2016, Madam Hillary 2016, Time for Hillary, HillaryFTW (For The Win).

But you can also find PACs called Stop Hillary, Just Say No to Hillary and Defeat Hillary. A PAC called The Hillary Project promises to “wage a war on Hillary Clinton’s image.”

A few Democrats, and almost all Republicans, have no interest in awarding her the White House without a fight.

“If she’s the candidate, we’re in great shape in Missouri,” said Ed Martin, chairman of the state’s Republican Party.

Other Republicans have made similar statements. They pounced on Clinton’s recent claim that she and husband Bill were “broke” when they left the White House in 2001. They have also hinted they will make Clinton’s age and health an issue if she pursues the race.

Uncomfortable issues

A presidential campaign would require Clinton to address uncomfortable issues: the deaths of diplomats in Benghazi during her time as secretary of state, her past statements on same-sex marriage and the personal scandals surrounding her husband’s presidency.

Yet to a remarkable degree, Democrats have coalesced around a potential Clinton candidacy, pushing Vice President Joe Biden and other potential claimants to the sidelines.

Sen. Claire McCaskill angered the Clinton forces in 2008 when she endorsed Barack Obama early and often. Now the Missouri Democrat is on the Clinton team.

“If her future plans include seeking the presidency, which I hope they do, then I look forward to being on her team and working my heart out to see her elected,” she said recently.

Gov. Jay Nixon, not one to go out of his way in elections other than his own, has endorsed a Clinton candidacy.

The early support partially reflects her standing in the polls. Clinton not only outpolls potential Democratic opponents, she outpolls Republicans hopefuls.

Polling support isn’t universal, of course. An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll in mid-June showed 38 percent of registered voters would probably or almost certainly vote for her, while 37 percent would definitely not vote for her.

The support for a Clinton run may also reflect her status as history’s most qualified woman presidential candidate. Many Democrats say they want to nominate a woman after twice nominating an African-American.

But many Democrats are also supporting Clinton because they’re worried about the intraparty scramble if she doesn’t run.

“Wow. If she doesn’t run, that will be an incredible political jump ball,” said Mike Sanders, Jackson County executive and former Missouri Democratic Party chairman. “You could see a surprising number of people … take a real hard look at that race.”

Joan Wagnon, chairwoman of the Kansas Democratic Party, said she expects Clinton to be a candidate. But she said the party will have alternatives if she decides to skip the race.

“This notion that she’s letting the party down if she doesn’t run, I don’t buy that,” she said.

Wagnon also believes Clinton’s decision about a campaign will be more personal than political.

“She needs to run because she’s got a fire in her belly and she knows she can do it,” she said. “What she’s got to figure out is, can she stomach everything they put a presidential candidate through?”

Other Democrats in Missouri and Kansas made similar observations. Clinton’s ultimate decision, they said, will involve a difficult calculus of family, age, politics, ambition and policy.

“Like any politician, she’s weighing her options,” Justus said. “Trying to decide what’s best for her, best for the country and best for her party.

“That will be a very hard decision.”

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