As Hillary Clinton works with her close knit group of advisers ahead of the launch her presidential campaign, their work is guided by a new set of humble principles: No big crowds. Few soaring rallies. Less mention of her own ambitions. And extinguish the air of inevitability propelling her candidacy.
The long and winding prelude to her announcement is nearly over, according to aides, and the start of her second bid for the White House is likely only days away. Top Democratic activists in the early-voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire privately say they have been placed on alert that Clinton will soon be on her way.
The specific moment she jumps into the race remains a closely guarded secret, even inside the crowded corridors of her small office suite in Manhattan, which new aides have descended upon to build the operation. Only a handful of confidantes actually know the precise time Clinton will pull the trigger first on social media yet aides have been instructed to be ready from Monday forward.
But her campaign strategy has crystallized: She will devote considerable time and attention to on-the-ground footwork in Iowa and New Hampshire. She intends to make less frequent stops in Nevada and South Carolina. Together, those four states kick off the nominating contest early next year and will help determine how warmly Democrats embrace her candidacy.
The early pieces of her strategy are starting to come into sharper view as the announcement nears. One of the most noticeable differences from her first campaign, according to more than a dozen people close to the Clintons, is a concerted effort to try and make her candidacy seem far less focused on her winning than on listening to the concerns of voters.
“The early caucus and primary states give her an opportunity to visit with folks in small, more intimate settings, where they will learn a lot about her and she will learn a lot from them,” Tom Vilsack, the agriculture secretary and former Iowa governor, who served as a national chairman of her 2008 campaign said.
Several Democrats close to Clinton say she would actually rather face a credible primary challenger and she still might rather than be forced to compete with unrealistic expectations of a phantom candidate being promoted by the party’s more liberal left wing.
But Clinton has told her advisers that she intends to aggressively campaign as though she has a primary opponent, aides say, by listening to concerns of voters and taking great pains to avoid the appearance of a coronation.
One approach is to avoid blatant suggestions of the historic nature of her candidacy, hoping to fight impressions that Clinton’s presidential aspirations are all about her.
That was one of the key findings of research already conducted through focus groups in Iowa and New Hampshire. Those conversations, coupled with the searing lessons from 2008, have led aides to impress upon Clinton and her loyal circle of admirers that, far more than her own political ambitions, this race must be about what voters want.
While it seems basic, the fresh crop of advisers cringe at how she announced her last presidential campaign, with a video message and a statement on her website that declared: “I’m in. And I’m in to win.”
This first-person mantra, which flourished repeatedly throughout her statement back on Jan. 20, 2007, will be all but stripped from her vocabulary, aides say. In its place will be a pledge to carry the causes of Americans who feel left behind in the economic recovery and the growing divide among classes.