Mich. Dems say they'll help Clinton win nomination

Chad Livengood and Gary Heinlein
Detroit News Lansing Bureau
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Lansing — Hillary Clinton's two-plus decades in the national spotlight as first lady, a U.S. senator, presidential candidate and secretary of state makes her best positioned to capture the Democratic Party nomination in 2016 with the help of Michigan Democrats and independents, party insiders say.

"She has an extensive network in Michigan that supported her in 2008 and is ready to support her again," said Mark Brewer, former chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party. "Democrats are ready for Hillary, to borrow a phrase."

Clinton launched her much-anticipated second campaign for the presidency on Sunday, saying "everyday Americans need a champion. I want to be that champion."

Tujuana Shinholster, a Harper Woods resident, said Clinton's bid for the Oval Office goes beyond being a champion.

"We need a woman in office," said Shinholster, 32. "We need diversity. We have a black president in office. We now need a woman. And her husband (Bill Clinton) was a great president."

The road to Hillary Clinton's second White House bid began long before Sunday. In 2013, Clinton backers formed a super political action committee called Ready for Hillary, raising $12.9 million from donors to develop a network of supporters for a 2016 presidential campaign.

Jill Alper, a Grosse Pointe-based Democratic consultant, worked on Bill Clinton's 1992 and 1996 campaigns and Hillary Clinton's 2008 campaign.

This time around, Alper said, she believes Hillary Clinton will offer voters a "forward-looking message about the future" that focuses on strengthening economic opportunities for ordinary Americans.

"She comes into this campaign with additional life experiences," said Alper, noting Clinton, 67, became a grandmother last year. "Having traveled the world, her ideas about how to accomplish that as a leader on the world stage have only deepened."

Former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who now lives and works in California, has been a senior adviser to the Ready for Hillary PAC, actively encouraging Clinton to run again, said Democratic consultant Howard Edelson.

Granholm also is co-chair of Priorities USA Action, a big-dollar super PAC that's expected to assist Clinton's bid for the job her husband, Bill Clinton, had from 1993 to 2001.

In 2006, Clinton campaigned in Michigan and raised money for Granholm's 2006 re-election battle against Republican Dick DeVos, Edelson said.

"She's been working Michigan for many, many years, so she's very well positioned not only for Democrats … but I think she's going to do very well with Michigan independents too," said Edelson, who was Granholm's 2006 campaign manager.

Michigan Democratic Party Chair Lon Johnson responded to Clinton launching her presidential campaign. "I'm glad to hear that Hillary Clinton will be running for president in 2016, and looking forward to hearing her outline her plans to give every family, every small business, and every American a path to lasting prosperity."

But Michigan Republican Party Chairman Ronna Romney McDaniel said Sunday that a Clinton presidency would leave Michigan worse off.

"Hillary Clinton has been pushing her liberal agenda in Washington for over two decades. During these years, voters have come to associate the word 'scandal' with the name 'Clinton,' " Romney McDaniel said. "From taking millions of dollars from foreign governments to carelessly using her personal email account for official state department business, Hillary Clinton has a record of avoiding transparency."

While Clinton is the odds-on favorite to win the Democratic nomination, other Democrats are testing the presidential waters. Former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley has been traveling to early primary states in recent months, while former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb and former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee have launched presidential exploratory committees.

Vice President Joe Biden also hasn't ruled out another run for the White House after failed campaigns in 1988 and 2008.

To avoid a serious primary challenge, Clinton has to lay out her agenda for taking on the Republican nominee and defend her record as a U.S. senator and Obama's chief diplomat, Brewer said.

"I think she needs to demonstrate that she wants this, that she's not taking it for granted," Brewer said.

There also remains a grassroots campaign within the Democratic Party to draft Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren to enter the race and challenge Clinton on her perceived coziness with Wall Street bankers and foreign policy record, which includes voting as a U.S. senator to authorize former President George W. Bush to go to war in Iraq.

Past favorite

In 2008, Clinton arguably won Michigan's presidential primary by default after Obama, Biden, former Sen. John Edwards and former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson took their names off the ballot because the Jan. 15 nominating contest was being held early in violation of Democratic National Committee rules.

Former Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich unsuccessfully sought to remove his name from the ballot. Clinton decided to keep her name on the ballot but pledged not to campaign in Michigan.

Clinton won 55 percent of the primary vote, while 40 percent of voters marked down an unusual option of "uncommitted" on the ballot.

"That really enabled her to have a free run here," Edelson said.

But exit polling showed Clinton would have still prevailed over Obama and Edwards had their names been on the ballot, Edelson said.

Last fall, Clinton was in Michigan to round up votes for now-U.S. Sen. Gary Peters of Bloomfield Township and gubernatorial candidate Mark Schauer. She spoke at Oakland University on Oct. 16 as she campaigned for Democratic candidates in Illinois, Colorado, Nevada and Kentucky.

"When she was here last fall, people really were energized," said Frank Houston, chairman of the Oakland County Democratic Party. "It remains to be seen how people will feel about established voices versus new candidates. In my view and from what I hear, people are looking for experienced, credible leaders who get things done."

That includes James Jones, a Southfield resident, who said he thinks the time is right for Clinton's presidential bid, and he is looking forward to it.

"It a great step for something that is going to be better for America," said Jones, 40. "It's something that needed to be done for the Democratic party, it's something that needed to be done for women."

Challenges ahead

Republicans seeking their party's nomination and outside groups have made blocking Clinton's pathway to the White House the cornerstone of their 2016 campaign plans.

A super PAC called Stop Hillary is already highlighting Clinton's recent woes over her private email server as Obama's secretary of state and the foundation Bill Clinton formed that accepts foreign donations. Hillary Clinton has reportedly been moving to cut ties to the Clinton Foundation.

"She's not a transparent leader. She can't be trusted," said Matt Chisholm, spokesman for the Stop Hillary PAC. "There's a long way to go for Hillary and a lot of tough truths out there that she hasn't faced yet."

Houston believes any candidate "fatigue" among voters at the prospect of another Clinton campaign is outweighed by the watershed nature of a potential Hillary Clinton presidential win.

"When you have perhaps the most-credible woman candidate in American history running for president, that's exciting," Houston said. "Even my young children see something powerful about having a woman holding the most influential position in our country."

Houston said it's debatable how soon a candidate should declare for the presidency but it's good for Clinton to jump in now.

"Let's be honest, when you're looking at billion-dollar campaigns, and God knows how much money is going to be spent against our nominee," he said.

Bob Kolt, a Democratic media strategist in Okemos, said it was "weird" for Clinton to announce her campaign on a Sunday, but further evidence she does things her own way.

"The timing seems right," Kolt said. "People were waiting. I don't think she'd have been able to wait much longer."

Kolt said Democratic challengers now will have to step up before the end of May: "You really can't give Hillary any more of a head start than that, considering how popular she is."

Staff Writers Melissa Nann Burke, Kim Kozlowski and David Shepardson, and the Associated Press contributed.


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Support in Congress

Several Democrats in Michigan's congressional delegation are supporting Hillary Clinton, including Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Lansing and Reps. Debbie Dingell of Dearborn, Sander Levin of Royal Oak, Dan Kildee of Flint and Brenda Lawrence of Southfield.

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