What Hillary Clinton needs to do to win

In finally declaring her 2016 presidential candidacy, Hillary Clinton put a reverse twist on the old break-up line, "It's not you. It's me." Her pitch, she said, is all about you -- the voters and what you need -- not about me and my ambition to follow my husband into the Oval Office.

"I'm hitting the road to earn your vote," she declared on Twitter before her departure, "because it's your time, and I hope you'll join me on this journey."


This low-key, low-volume approach -- reintroducing herself via a video on the Internet and busing out to Iowa for folksy small meetings with voters rather than a splashy televised extravaganza -- was nevertheless slickly calculated. But it made the point that she intends to focus on "everyday Americans" for their support rather than simply being coronated.

The absence, so far anyway, of a recognized political giant blocking her path makes it difficult at the start to shake the notion that she's already being anointed. But former Sen. James Webb of Virginia and former Sen. and Gov. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, a Republican turned Democrat, could as outspoken critics of the U.S. invasion of Iraq pose challenges to Ms. Clinton, who voted in the Senate in 2003 to authorize use of force there.

If they enter the Democratic race, and if others such as former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders do as well, they could prove to be formidable sparring partners and oblige Ms. Clinton to hone her positions on a host of broader issues.

On domestic policy, she should have an easy time blending in with the liberal Democratic line of pursuing middle-class income equality as well as racial and gender equality. But on foreign policy, the large field of Republican candidates is poised to go after her on everything from the attack on the consulate in Benghazi, Libya to her early backing of the Iraq war.

President Barack Obama was quick to say "my friend" and former cabinet member "would make an excellent president," but he was just as quick to add "I'm not on the ballot and I'm not going to step on her lines." Considering his own questionable standing with the public right now, that seems the most she would want for now.

But a previous Democratic presidential nominee, former Vice President Al Gore, pointedly downplayed his role in the Bill Clinton administration and kept the ex-president largely on the sidelines in his own 2000 campaign for the presidency. He probably paid a price for doing so.

The active support of Mr. Obama in 2016 would no doubt help Hillary Clinton turn out African-American voters. Paired with anticipated huge support from women, that would be the best formula to put her in the White House. But in the end she will have to offer not only her demonstrated personal strength and capacity for hard work. She will have to overcome the penchant for privacy and privilege she acquired in her husband's political rise and the family's growing wealth.

Her stumble during her earlier book tour, in which she insisted she and Bill were "flat broke" on leaving the White House, revealed a political tin ear. So in her coming-out, it was noted she had resigned from the board of the Clinton Foundation, criticized by Republican presidential hopeful Rand Paul for accepting funds "from sort of stone-age regimes that really abuse the rights of women," which she targets as a women's rights champion.

The more recent flap over her deletion of thousands of emails from her private account fanned suspicions of self-protection, as well as reinforcing a public impression of entitlement to privacy not accorded to everyday Americans. The best way to combat these impressions is to open up more personally, as the beginning of her formal campaign indicates she intends to do.

Between now and Election Day 2016, Hillary Clinton doesn't need a basic makeover. But she does need to let the voters get a better look into the human side of her that is less determined and less calculated -- and calculating. And that's a hard order for any serious politician to deliver in a persuasive fashion.

Jules Witcover is a syndicated columnist and former long-time writer for The Sun. His latest book is "The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power," published by Smithsonian Books. His email is