At long last, the campaign has a candidate.
After playing one of the more tedious games of cat and mouse in recent American political history, Hillary Clinton admitted on Sunday afternoon what she has been for the last two years: an actual contender for the Democratic nomination for president.
The announcement came in midafternoon, hours after had been initially reported and in perhaps on the most low-key campaign kickoff announcements in modern American political history: a quietly released video on HillaryClinton.com.
The video featured every day Americans, talking about their lives—upcoming major events in their lives: their weddings, new jobs and retirement, new children on the way, and ends with Clinton saying “I’m getting ready to do something too. I am running for president."
The announcement comes as Democrats in DC have fretted that without an organized infrastructure Clinton has been a glutton for Republican attacks, and ill-equipped to respond to the news of the moment, whether it be about her burgeoning private email scandal or the latest Clinton Foundation fundraising fiasco.
This concern has been echoed among the grassroots in the early primary states, where the usual care and feeding of caucus-goers and town hall attendees has not happened.
The time has come, top Democrats say, for Hillary Clinton to begin to take control of her own story.
“Right now everyone is just holding their breath in,” said Walt Pregler, the chairman of the Dubuque County Democratic Party. “We are being bombarded by Republicans. I couldn’t give a rat’s butt what they have to say.”
Hillary, he added, “has to get out there. That’s my feeling. There are a lot of people working here for Elizabeth Warren, although the way it looks right now Hillary is still number one. She carries a sword and she isn’t afraid to swing it”
That sword has remained in its scabbard and—aside from a tweet here and there from her Twitter account—Republicans have filled the void, calling Clinton a liar and a creature of all that is wrong about Washington, D.C.
“There’s a lot of stuff there that is, I think, going to shake the confidence of Americans in her ability to lead in an honest fashion,” Rand Paul told Politico after his own campaign kickoff earlier in the week. “She’s saying: ‘Well, you need to trust me even though I broke the rules, and maybe the law to begin with.’”
Those attacks appear to be starting to leave a mark.
For most of the last two years, Clinton has held commanding polling leads, beating Republican contenders in some of the deepest red states, and occasionally even beating them in their home states. On Thursday, Quinnipiac released a series of polls that showed Clinton trailing or up only slightly in the key swing states of Colorado, Iowa and Virginia. And it wasn’t just to top tier contenders like Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio that Clinton suddenly found herself looking up at—it was practically everyone, including longshots like Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz.
“The campaign really already has begun,” said Jim Hodges, a former Democratic governor of South Carolina. “All you need to do is witness the press coverage over the last six months. Despite their best efforts, their ability to stay above the fray proved to be pretty limited. It was simply impossible to stay out any longer.”
People in and close to the Clinton operation insist that the timing of the announcement had little to do with any of these factors. Clinton will be inheriting a political operation as ready to make her the nominee any candidate in history. Outside groups have been raising tens of millions of dollars on Clinton’s behalf, and the grassroots outfit Ready for Hillary has signed up four million supporters.
Rather, they say, the campaign was ready to launch when the campaign was ready to launch: when the website was completed, when the staff hires were all made and the rollout planned down to the smallest detail.
By late Friday, the official response from the Clinton headquarters was that there was still no official campaign, even as dozens of staffers had been hired and The New York Times spotted people working in her new Brooklyn campaign office.
Last month, Clinton made what would turn out to be her final appearance as a non-candidate. It was in Brooklyn, miles from where her new headquarters would be. She appeared at a children’s center to promote childhood literacy, and despite the insistence of her aides that she would not take questions, one intrepid journalist asked when she would return to the borough to open her campaign headquarters.
“All in good time, all in good time,” Clinton responded with a smile before hustling out of the room.
The good times are apparently here.