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Hillary Clinton holds the key to 2016 White House race

Hillary Clinton holds the key to 2016 White House race
Washington:  Will she, won't she, will she, won't she, will she join the dance? To borrow from "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland," that's the question on everyone's lips about Hillary Clinton and the 2016 White House race.

And just like Alice, who followed the White Rabbit down the hole into a strange and topsy-turvy universe, nothing is ever quite what it seems in Clintonland or the ever-shifting world of US politics.

It doesn't matter how many times Clinton rules out another White House bid. No one seems to believe that a woman who has proved a master at re-inventing herself will simply ride off into the sunset.

"I've said I really don't believe that that's something I will do again," she reiterated, referring to her 2008 bid, when asked by ABC's Barbara Walters this week whether she will run in the 2016 presidential election.

As Clinton prepares to step down as secretary of state, she can boast approval ratings of about 60 percent, higher than anyone in the cabinet of President Barack Obama - who beat her in a Democratic primary four years ago.

"Every Democrat I know says: 'God, I hope she runs. We don't need a primary. Let's just go to post with this thing,'" Democratic Party strategist James Carville, a friend of the Clintons, said Sunday on ABC.

"The Democrats want her to run. And I don't just mean a lot of Democrats. I mean a whole lot of Democrats, like 90 percent across the country."

Recent polls would seem to bear out his enthusiasm. A Washington Post-ABC poll last week said 57 percent of Americans would support her if she ran again, as well as some 60 percent of Republican women.

And while four years is an eon in politics, Clinton, arguably the world's most powerful advocate for women and girls, must still nurse the desire to smash America's last elusive glass ceiling.

Her husband, former president Bill Clinton, is said to want her to run, and as Hillary Clinton - or "The Boss" as she is known at State - returns to private life, America's top political couple will wield formidable power.

After helping Obama win a historic second term in November with their staunch backing, the Clintons will no doubt be able to count on his support.

With few strong candidates lining up yet on the Democratic side, the race for the party's nomination -- and all-important donors and fundraisers -- will be effectively frozen until her intentions are 100 percent clear.

Vice President Joe Biden may want to take a shot at the top job, but he'll turn 74 in late 2016. That would make him the oldest nominee ever.

Other potential candidates, such as Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, and Senator Mark Warner of Virginia lack the same status or political chops.

Clinton's potential candidacy is likely to also shape the Republican field, as it struggles to recover from its second decisive White House defeat in a row and shed its image as the party of older white men.

A few Republicans are already jostling in the wings, including Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who would appeal to the Latino vote, and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who won kudos for his handling of Hurricane Sandy.

But former Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich, who was defeated for the party's nomination this year, warned it would be an uphill battle against the Democrats.

"If their competitor in '16 is going to be Hillary Clinton, supported by Bill Clinton and presumably a still relatively popular President Barack Obama, trying to win that will be truly the Super Bowl," he said on NBC.

"And the Republican Party today is incapable of competing at that level."

As a former first lady, a successful New York senator and an internationally-admired secretary of state, Clinton brings an unrivaled resume and "rock star" credentials to the table.

And although she will be 69 in November 2016, she told ABC that, while she is exhausted now after 20 years in the public eye, her age would not be a factor four years down the line when she has had time to rest.

"I am, thankfully, knock on wood, not only healthy, but have incredible stamina and energy," she said.

It is likely, however, that if Clinton were to enter the fray, her popularity ratings would drop.

Once one of the most divisive figures in American politics, in part due to her clumsy efforts as first lady to instigate health care reform, as secretary of state Clinton has stayed above partisan politics.

Pollster extraordinaire Nate Silver, who correctly predicted the outcome in 50 states in November, said on his New York Times blog that she would once again become a Republican target if she were to run.

But he said Clinton would have some "unique strengths" as a candidate, and "she seems like Democrats' best bet, perhaps by some margin, to extend their winning streak to three or more terms in the White House."

Perhaps Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland Martin McGuinness said it best last week during Clinton's brief visit to the British province.

"When we say goodbye to the Clintons, we also say, 'We'll see you again soon,'" said McGuinness, triggering one of Clinton's trademark deep laughs.
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