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Hillary Clinton's good luck

With tempers flaring in the fight for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton can rejoice as her own campaign glides along in relative tranquility.

In terms of her wide lead in national polls and the lack of bitterness compared to the hostility among the GOP contenders, the former first lady and secretary of state continues to enjoy a cakewalk against a self-declared socialist trying to fashion a political revolution in a liberal-to-moderateDemocratic Party.

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Ms. Clinton's prime opponent, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, trails her in the run-up to the Iowa precinct caucuses by 9 percent (48 to 39) in the latest Des Moines Register poll. She has a much wider lead in national surveys, including the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, which has her ahead by 19 percent (56 to 37), with former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley at only 4 percent.

Beyond that, the tone of the Democratic competition has been conspicuously impersonal and courtly, especially when viewed through the prism of the GOP team-tag wrestling match featuring no-holds-barred Donald Trump. Up to now, Ms. Clinton's chief challenge has come from an unfavorable public perception of her, and even that seems to be diminishing.

In Iowa, where Ms. Clinton ran a deflating third in the 2008 precinct caucuses behind then-Sens. Barack Obama and John Edwards, the latest Register poll gives her a favorability rating of 82 percent, two points higher than Mr. Sanders. Having weathered a shaky campaign startup and a House committee's 11-hour grilling over the Benghazi consulate attack on her State Department watch, she appears finally to be overcoming that negative perception.

Meanwhile, Ms. Clinton has deftly begun to reinforce her image as a knowledgeable and experienced foreign-policy hand, generally in support of her old boss President Obama while creating some distance between them on critical Middle East issues. She has established herself as more hawkish in dealing with the Syrian civil war and in combating the Islamic State, at least in rhetoric.

In the context of the struggles of Republican non-politician candidates Mr. Trump and Ben Carson to acquire some semblance of expertise with foreign-policy challenges, Ms. Clinton has her substantial track record and wide globetrotting from the State Department and as a U.S. senator to offer.

It's obvious that the Clinton camp looks on the turmoil within the Republican Party generally, and particularly on such issues as immigration policy and the latest refugee furor in Europe, as grounds to anticipate major Democratic gains among minority voters next year. In this regard, Ms. Clinton's modest foreign-policy differences with the retiring Obama, himself widely criticized, make political sense for her.

Beyond the broad enthusiasm and loyalty toward Ms. Clinton among women, and the lure of breaking the gender glass ceiling by putting her in the Oval Office, she has had other good fortune. Vice President Joe Biden's decision against seeking his party's presidential nomination was a major break. So was the honorable gesture by Mr. Sanders, voluntarily calling off the dogs on the Republicans' zealous effort to make political hay from "those damned emails," as he did in their first televised debate.

For all the sniping at Ms. Clinton for oft-alleged aloofness, a sense of entitlement and a penchant for personal privacy as she seeks the presidency, the former first lady has encountered a remarkably cordial second path so far toward return to the White House, this time on her own.

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Within the Democratic Party, her husband the former two-term president is a major if low-profile ally in that quest. He may be a mixed blessing, however, as a target along the way for much Republican disfavor and enmity accumulated over a generation.

When Bill Clinton first ran in 1992, he offered his politically savvy wife as a bonus: "Two for the price of one." Some 23 years later, she is not openly suggesting the same bonus, as the Big Dog as first husband raises uncertain questions in some voters' minds. Nevertheless, the same package will be on the table, for good or ill, if she becomes the Democratic nominee next year.

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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