Dems start Obama-to-Clinton transition

Democrats in Washington are starting to shift from the Obamas to the Clintons. [WATCH VIDEO]

Hillary Clinton has already racked up a couple of endorsements for the 2016 presidential race — and she hasn’t even announced she’s running yet. Requests are flooding in for the former secretary of State to campaign for candidates.

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Of course, President Obama remains the most sought-after figure, but his star power could fade in the coming months as the chatter about his successor intensifies.  His approval rating has fallen as his administration has grappled with a variety of controversies ranging from IRS overreach to government snooping.

“The political focus of the Democratic Party will shift to Hillary, and in some ways it has already,” said former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell (D), who, as a staunch Clinton supporter, has an interest in seeing his forecast come true.

He noted that while Obama will be the policy leader of the party, there will be an “inherent transition” politically to the person Democrats see as the next leader.


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That person is probably Clinton, who is trouncing all other potential Democratic rivals in 2016 presidential polls.

All the Clinton allies The Hill spoke to repeatedly emphasized her loyalty to Obama, pointing out that she needs some rest after her busy tenure as secretary of State. They stressed that she hasn’t made up her mind about 2016.

At the same time, however, they acknowledge that she is the early favorite for the next Democratic presidential nomination.

“There is a cautious presumption that the nomination is hers for the taking,” said Phil Singer, deputy communications manager for Clinton’s 2008 campaign. 

“People are excited about the prospect of a Clinton candidacy, but also cognizant a campaign is a long way off.”

That caution is in place for a reason: There is a danger that Clinton could peak too early. She was the heavy favorite in the 2008 Democratic race before narrowly losing to Obama.

“Bubbles inflated early in the process can deflate,” Singer said.

“The piece that tends to get most overlooked is she hasn’t decided to run yet,” said Mo Elleithee, who was a spokesman for Clinton’s 2008 campaign. “She’s got to make a decision first and make it in her own time.”

There have been hints that Clinton is laying the groundwork for a campaign: She started a Twitter account with a description of her past titles and the note “TBD.” She is also working on a memoir.

And then there was Sen. Claire McCaskill’s (D-Mo.) unusual endorsement of Clinton on Tuesday — 30 months before the 2016 Iowa Caucus.

Several former Clinton aides told The Hill that they were surprised by McCaskill’s announcement.

During her first Senate campaign in 2006, McCaskill said she would not let her daughter be alone with former President Bill Clinton.

Some have viewed the Missouri Democrat’s move as a way to make amends with the Clintons, who are known to have long memories. It’s likely that other Democrats who criticized the Clintons during the 2008 race will follow McCaskill’s lead. That group could include lawmakers, lobbyists and Hollywood figures.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), a longtime ally of the Clintons, officially jumped on board the Clinton 2016 bandwagon on Tuesday.

“I am personally urging Secretary Clinton to run,” Gillibrand said during an event at the Third Way think tank. “I’ve told her I plan to support her in any way I can.”

If Clinton opts against running, there is talk that Gillibrand might launch her own bid for the White House.

But before 2016 rolls around, there are the 2014 midterm elections. Democratic lawmakers are already clamoring for Clinton’s aid.

“It’s almost universal,” said Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel (N.Y.). “Members would like her to drop by for a visit or two.”

He said he spoke to Clinton about helping Democrats retake the House. 

“I had a conversation with her where she said she needed time to see to some personal interests and I said, ‘The second you are ready — and I do not mean the minute and I do not mean the hour — but the second you are ready, I hope you will call me,’” Israel said.

Rendell said if he were running again, he’d want Clinton over Obama to campaign for him because “President Obama is so identified with healthcare” and other controversial policy issues. 

“Hillary comes in as a white knight with little downside.”

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), who is seeking a second term next year, said, “We’re talking to her about helping me in my reelection effort, and I know that she’s taking a little break. But I’m hopeful that she will and I’m also hopeful she’s going to run for president.”

If reelected, Shaheen is expected to be a major player in the 2016 first-in-the-nation presidential primary in her home state. Her husband, William Shaheen, served as Clinton’s co-chairman of her national and New Hampshire campaigns in the 2008 contest.

Clinton’s approval ratings have dropped recently amid continued GOP attacks about her decisions related to the deadly Sept. 11, 2012 terrorist attack on a U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya. But her popular approval numbers remain over 50 percent.

Lanny Davis, a former special counsel in the Clinton White House who has known Hillary Clinton since law school, said her tenure at the State Department enhanced her stature.

“When people like Claire McCaskill who were so much for Barack Obama are now there for Hillary Clinton, it shows how Hillary Clinton has grown,” Davis, who is a columnist for The Hill, said.