Hillary's Route to the White House

This will not be my only column about Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign. She launched it last week -- 19 months before the general election. I'll admit: I will vote for her. As will the majority of American journalists for our major newspapers and television networks, the very same who will follow her on the campaign trail, investigate her past and expose her every vulnerability. And let's get something else out of the way: the coverage, and Republican attacks against her, will be tinged with sexism -- in language, tone, emphasis and questions asked and unasked.

Hillary's campaign will offer a chance to hear a lot from her, but will not tell us much about the president she will be. We'll save that until, and if, she is elected.

Here are a few dimensions to watch until then. Her emergence as a populist democrat: some say she has always sided with the poor and middle class; others say she is a creature of Wall Street who benefited from and, by association, advanced the deregulation that brought us the 2008 financial crisis. No national politician can avoid corporate power and finance, but Hillary does have a lifetime track record of advocacy for the health, political participation and economic opportunity of families, women and children.

Another dimension: the Democratic Party will have few if any alternatives challenging Hillary for the presidential ticket. That means she will spend 15 months until the party conventions next summer talking about herself with her advisors, campaign staff, and the American people. Sounds exhausting and a little tedious, no? Her most important competitor will be the national media. Reporters and editorialists will provide the scrutiny and accountability that a robust slate of primary challengers otherwise would.

Without a challenger from her own party, the race to the general election campaign is hers to lose. A lot could go wrong with no one to debate but the press. But she will also have an extra year to focus and refine her message about the Republican Party's agenda. She has more than a dozen candidates to scrutinize and attack, among them Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Scott Walker and Ted Cruz. And they her.

Starting now, she has to determine whether and how to distinguish herself from Barack Obama without making Al Gore's mistake of abandoning Bill Clinton's legacy. (Dilma made the right choice vis Lula in 2010) And she'll have to develop a narrative that resonates with her own history and squarely explains what she will deliver in the future, as President. Republicans will claim that outcome as the end of the world as we know it, and make the race a referendum on Obama. My bet: that very framing will send her to the Oval Office.

This post was originally published in Portuguese in Folha de São Paulo. It is available here.