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Opinion

Count on GOP candidates to gang up on Hillary

For one reason or another, some Democratic friends and foes alike of Hillary Clinton contend that she needs a serious challenger for their party's 2016 presidential nomination. She will benefit, they say, from having a punching bag who can clarify her positions on key issues and bring out the best in her personal qualifications for the job.

It's a rather risky proposition to turn loose a critic capable of revealing the vulnerabilities of the party's strongest candidate going into the contest. There's always the possibility that such a free-swinging challenger may land a politically telling blow, and leave the party worse off than having the coronation that appears ahead for the clear 2016 frontrunner.

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Even the late great Joe Louis found himself on the canvas occasionally from a wild haymaker thrown by one of the bums of the month he eventually knocked out in his heyday defending his heavyweight crown.

Those who yearn for another Democrat to toughen Hillary Clinton in the primaries dismiss an obvious fact: Right now, there are upwards of 20 Republican presidential aspirants lining up for their party's nomination, loaded with ammunition to fire at her.

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If there is any unifying element in the GOP arsenal beyond President Obama, it is the candidacy of Hillary Clinton to succeed him. So far at least, the Republican presidential wannabes have been holding punches against their own rivals, vying instead to outdo each other in their disdain for Mr. Obama and his former secretary of state.

With Mr. Obama a lame duck, Hillary Clinton increasingly will draw the ire and criticism of the GOP contenders as each seeks to demonstrate himself to be the most formidable candidate against her. She can either try to ignore them and accept coronation, or have her hands full fending off the Republican pack nipping at her heels between now and the party conventions in the summer of 2016.

Her opening strategy is to stay as much as possible out of the public limelight, much as she did in her successful "listening tour" of upstate New York before her election to the U.S. Senate as an outsider in 2000. It casts her once again as a humble seeker of support from the "everyday Americans" she vows to champion if she reaches the White House.

As one of the most famous women in the world, she needs no major rallies or endorsements from prominent party leaders, though she already has many, to plant the idea that she has the toughness and experience to take on the job of president. Her huge support to date from female voters provides the comparable ingredient for victory that African-Americans gave Mr. Obama in 2008, when he beat her in their fight for the party nomination.

The likelihood is strong that the Republican's army of would-be presidents will continue to focus on Hillary Clinton for a while longer before they turn on each other as the GOP field is winnowed down in party debates beginning later this year. The harder they hit her, the more Democratic support should solidify.

Meanwhile, tentative challenges within the party from Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, former Sens. James Webb of Virginia andLincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, the latter a Republican transplant, threaten to aim at her early vote as a senator in 2002 to authorize use of force against Iraq.

A fourth Democrat, former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, has not gained much traction, and the obvious elephant in the room, Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, continues to vow she is not a presidential candidate. So, the most earnest of Democratic liberals are left with little other choice than to eventually fall in line behind the front-runner.

Yet, for those who wish to keep the White House in Democratic hands, Ms. Clinton's seemingly open path to the 2016 nomination is infinitely more a blessing than a challenge from within her party would be, however much some believe it would make her a better candidate in the general election.

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Jules Witcover is a syndicated columnist and former long-time writer for The Baltimore Sun. His latest book is "The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power" (Smithsonian Books). His email is juleswitcover@comcast.net.


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