- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 16, 2014

In a 2016 presidential contest that can be summed up as Hillary Rodham Clinton versus everybody else, early signs show the race isn’t even close.

Polling data suggest that not only is Mrs. Clinton miles ahead of potential Democratic rivals, but she’s also besting Republican foes by significant margins — in most cases, her lead is into double digits.

Analysts say Mrs. Clinton, who hasn’t declared that she’ll run but has a fundraising and grass-roots organizing machine operating at full-bore, benefits from high name recognition and has other advantages, chief among them the fact that the Republican Party lacks a candidate with anything close to the kind of widespread support the former secretary of state enjoys.

Those factors and others have her polling above 50 percent against all likely Republican rivals, according to a McClatchy/Marist College poll. Her smallest lead comes when matched up against Rep. Paul Ryan, the 2012 Republican vice presidential nominee.

Even then, she’s up by 8 points, the poll shows. Other Republicans — including Mitt Romney, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Sens. Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, and others — trail even further behind.

Even a potentially serious liability such as her handling of the 2012 Benghazi, Libya, terrorist attack that claimed the lives of four Americans hasn’t had a negative effect on Mrs. Clinton’s poll numbers.

“She’s benefiting tremendously from the fact that she’s running around the track by herself on the Democratic side, and the Republican side is about the furthest thing from tapping anybody as a front-runner that you can imagine. You have a front-runner and nothing else that resembles a front-runner,” said Lee Miringoff, a political science professor at New York’s Marist College and director of the school’s highly regarded Marist Institute for Public Opinion. “There’s some name recognition but it has a lot to do with clarity of voice. There’s a sense of who Hillary is, not only that they know her, but who she is and what she is. There’s not a sense on the GOP side for who these people are.”

Within the Democratic Party, there’s a growing sense of inevitability surrounding Mrs. Clinton’s campaign. Challengers, such as Vice President Joseph R. Biden and Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, are rumored to also be eyeing the White House, but surveys show Mrs. Clinton’s support dwarfing that of her potential Democratic opponents.

While it’s far too early to declare the primary race over — indeed, Mrs. Clinton is all too familiar with how quickly a big lead can evaporate after her 2008 campaign ultimately fell victim to then-Sen. Barack Obama — analysts and pundits say the party is coalescing around the former first lady largely because she fares so well against top Republicans in early polling.

“I think the Democrats are united in a way that doesn’t necessarily reflect love and intimacy, but they don’t want to blow what looks like a sure thing,” said Bruce Buchanan, a political science professor at the University of Texas at Austin who specializes in the presidency and presidential politics.

Two years before the nation’s first primary, saying Mrs. Clinton looks like a sure thing is not an overstatement.

Against Mr. Romney, the GOP’s 2012 nominee with name recognition that may rival that of Mrs. Clinton, the former first lady pulls in 53 percent of registered voters to just 44 for the Republican, according to the Marist poll.

Against tea party favorite and rising star Mr. Cruz, Mrs. Clinton garners 56 percent to just 39 percent for the Texas Republican.

Matched up against New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie — who once looked to be the GOP’s best general election bet but has dropped in the polls and is now bogged down in the so-called “Bridgegate” scandal — Mrs. Clinton wins by 21 points, 58 percent to 37 percent, last week’s Marist survey shows.

One of Mrs. Clinton’s greatest assets and one key to her strong numbers, analysts say, is that it doesn’t appear there are many skeletons left in her closet; voters feel like they understand who Mrs. Clinton is.

“She’s very well-known goods,” Mr. Buchanan said.

On the flip side, some Republicans already are trying to use the Clinton family’s past to their advantage in an effort to sabotage the campaign before it officially begins. Mr. Paul, for example, recently classified former President Bill Clinton as a “sexual predator,” a reference to the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

Such a line of attack, Mr. Miringoff said, could backfire as her husband’s well-documented infidelity may only cement Mrs. Clinton’s support among women.

“Sometimes she does well in that role. It’s double-edged” for Republicans, he said.

While it’s possible recent history could repeat itself and a candidate could emerge from within the Democratic Party and overtake Mrs. Clinton, such a scenario appears less likely this time, Mr. Miringoff added.

Leaders in the party’s progressive wing also believe that if Mrs. Clinton taps into unrest around income inequality and delivers an economic populist message in her campaign, the race is hers to lose.

“If Hillary Clinton agrees with [Massachusetts Sen. and progressive favorite] Elizabeth Warren on economic populism issues like more Wall Street reform and expanding Social Security benefits we see very little space for a primary challenge to her,” said Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a nearly 1 million-member progressive advocacy organization.

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