2016 the year for Clinton

If Hillary Clinton wants it, 2016 is hers for the taking.

Of course, plenty of people said that in 2008. Clinton was the top establishment pick, backed by the party elite, with top party operatives and a seemingly insurmountable lead in name recognition and cash.

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But Democrats always make room for an insurgent candidate, if only to make things interesting. In 2004, Howard Dean and Wesley Clark battled for that distinction, fueled in large part by emerging technologies such as social networks, online donations and independent blogs. It was those tools, refined through four years of breakneck evolution, that allowed Barack Obama to overcome Clinton’s establishment advantages, build an army of supporters to overcome her army of consultants and raise hundreds of millions of small-dollar donations to match her big-dollar donors.

Obama ran the first successful 21st-century campaign, while Clinton was saddled with a legacy apparatus. But the years since have been good to Hillary and set her up with a clear path to the White House if she wants it.

Republicans have been very helpful to her. From their ham-fisted efforts to woo dissatisfied Hillary supporters after the Democratic primary was over (how did Sarah Palin work out?) to their consistent efforts over the past four years to drive a wedge between Clinton and President Obama, the praise for the former first lady, senator and secretary of State has been steady.

“I have the sense that she’s one of the more competent members of the current administration,” said Dick Cheney in 2011. “[I]t would be interesting to speculate about how she might perform were she to be president.” Last year, Mitt Romney’s campaign cut a television ad using primary footage from 2008 to attack the president. And just last month, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said, “if we had a [Hillary] Clinton presidency [...] we would have fixed this fiscal mess by now.”

Republicans are now trying to take her down a peg with their Benghazi hysteria, but the damage is done. They have helped make Clinton the most popular politician in the country by far. The most recent polls from Fox News, ABC/The Washington Post and CNN all revealed approval ratings in the mid-60s. According to Gallup, she was the most admired woman of 2012. In fact, it could be argued that she’s the most admired woman of the last three generations — she’s topped Gallup’s list 17 times, compared to 13 times for the runner-up: Eleanor Roosevelt.

It’s early, but the fact that Clinton leads in early polling in Alaska, Texas and Kentucky, according to Public Policy Polling, suggests that she could dramatically reshape the electoral landscape. Of course, she has to get out of a Democratic primary — but on that front, 2016 would be nothing like 2008.

For starters, Clinton enjoys near-universal love with base Democrats. She was always strong with Hispanic voters — a key primary constituency in 2008 — but her loyalty to the president has won over Obama partisans as well. The possible opposition is subpar at best. Neither New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo nor Vice President Biden have any grassroots cachet, and any anti-drone candidate, like former Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich, would be as successful as Kucinich was in his 2,000 other presidential runs.

And, as in 2008, primary voters might well feel the call of history: That was the year we elected our first African-American president. Next time, we elect our first woman.

Moulitsas is the founder and publisher of Daily Kos.