By Anita Kumar and David Lightman, McClatchy Washington Bureau (TNS)
WASHINGTON — Hillary Clinton is expected to launch her long-anticipated campaign for the White House this month, making another attempt to become the first female president in the nation’s history.
The question now is where? And does it matter?
Clinton’s aides are assessing where she could make the biggest impact as she embarks on what she hopes will be a successful 20-month journey to the White House.
Is it Illinois, where she grew up? In New York, which she represented in the Senate? In a pivotal early-voting state such as New Hampshire or Iowa?
For the next several weeks, presidential-candidate announcements will be trumpeted as big news. After determining dates, the hopefuls will pick spots they say reflect their values and backgrounds, perhaps hometowns, perhaps rallies with thousands in key states.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, kicked off the announcement season last week at Liberty University, a Christian school founded by the late Rev. Jerry Falwell in the swing state of Virginia. Clinton and a parade of Republicans are expected to follow. Up next: Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who plans a rollout in Louisville on Tuesday. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., is set to be next.
But does any of this hoopla really matter on Election Day?
“Nobody’s going to say, ‘I voted for that person because of his announcement,’ ” said Andrew Kohut, founding director of the Pew Research Center.
That doesn’t mean the campaigns won’t devote time and energy to well-crafted events that will make headlines around the globe.
Clinton is expected to announce her second run for the White House by the end of April, according to those knowledgeable about her plans but not authorized to speak publicly.
The former secretary of state, senator and first lady remains the presumed front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, though she continues to be dogged by ethical questions about her family foundation’s acceptance of foreign donations, as well as her use of a private email account to conduct government business. Clinton’s timetable to announce was not moved up or back because of the barrage of negative publicity, said those familiar with her plans.
Supporters in some states have been urging her to announce her candidacy soon to confront the accusations and to start fundraising. But others who are close to Clinton say she’d prefer to delay the announcement since she has no problem with name recognition and could avoid the daily fray of campaigning.
Lou D’Allesandro, a veteran state senator and Democratic operative from New Hampshire, said he always encouraged candidates to come out early. “I think it’s the right thing to do,” he said. But Kiki McLean, a senior adviser to Clinton’s campaign in 2008, said delaying until a candidate was ready showed a disciplined strategy.
In the meantime, Ready for Hillary, the political action committee that’s helping to lay the groundwork for a second presidential run, has collected more than 3.5 million names on a supporters list. Staffers are quietly being hired in early states, though they aren’t being paid yet. Supporters have started training and canvassing.
Clinton entered the 2008 race by releasing a video in January 2007 timed to come just before President George W. Bush’s State of the Union address, as a way to draw a contrast with the administration. She spent the day calling supporters, donors and friends, participating in online chats and then traveling to Iowa and New Hampshire.
Kathy Sullivan, a Democratic activist who was a Clinton co-chair in New Hampshire in 2008, said it was difficult to say where Clinton would make her announcement this time since she had connections to so many places.
Donald Fowler, a former Democratic National Committee chairman who’s close to the Clintons, suggests a Norman Rockwell-esque piece of the United States, which could be many states, perhaps even an early one.
There are three common announcement locations: the symbolic event, the hometown or the visit to a key state.
Cruz followed that path by speaking in front of more than 8,000 people in Virginia at the world’s largest Christian school, where he aimed to mobilize evangelical voters.
Symbolic announcements send clear signals to the most likely supporters. “You want to mobilize your base,” said Will Rogers, chairman of the Polk County (Iowa) Republican Party. “It’s a way to create momentum.”
That worked for Barack Obama, who announced his candidacy on a freezing-cold day in February 2007 in Springfield, Ill., where he’d served as a state senator. He invoked the legacy of native son Abraham Lincoln, saying, “He tells us there is power in hope.”
More popular is the visit back home, in which candidates try to show that despite achieving great fame and power, they are still just aw-shucks folks who got some breaks. Paul plans to start his announcement tour Tuesday with a “Stand with Rand” rally in the ballroom of Louisville’s Galt House Hotel.
Going home allows the candidate a touch of humility. “Neither of my parents finished high school. They didn’t have much money,” said Rep. Richard Gephardt, D-Mo., as he announced at his elementary school in 2003. “But they saved what they could — 5, 10 dollars a week — so I could get an education and live out my dreams.”
Not all announcements are big shows. Clinton’s first rollout was that Saturday morning video. George H. W. Bush announced his 1980 candidacy at the National Press Club in Washington. Gen. Alexander Haig went to New York’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel in 1987 to make it official, and raise lots of money.
The risk in a big announcement is that it goes haywire. Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman’s 2011 event is often remembered for aides misspelling his name on reporters’ passes. Huntsman’s campaign fizzled quickly, but few blamed it on that gaffe.
“Most people don’t know about these announcements,” said Dante Scala, associate professor of political science at the University of New Hampshire, “and don’t care.”
(c)2015 McClatchy Washington Bureau, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC
Photo: Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the 2014 Harkin Steak Fry in Indianola, IA. (Gregory Hauenstein/Flickr)