Hillary Clinton appears to have scared away much of the competition should she seek the Democratic nomination for president in 2016. But her early and practically all-encompassing effort also presents the potential liability that she will sail through the primary season largely untested for the bare-knuckled general election.
And it could deny Democrats the chance to define themselves to Americans, strategists say.
“It's not good for a party because the Democratic Party needs a real debate about what it's for, who it's for, what it's about and where we'll take the country,” says Dennis Kucinich, a former Democratic congressman, presidential candidate and a Fox News contributor.
The 67-year-old Clinton plans to make an official announcement in early 2015, leaving some doubt about whether she will indeed run. But her frontrunner status is unquestionable.
She has roughly 62 percent of the likely vote and leads all potential Democratic challengers by a numbing 49.5 percentage points.
And those numbers combined with an ambitious public-speaking schedule and the fundraising and cheerleading group Ready for Hillary are making it difficult for potential primary challengers to raise money.
In addition, Clinton’s most formidable, likely primary challenger now, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, insists she’s not running, leaving the Democratic field so wide open that 73-year-old Bernie Sanders, an independent and junior senator from Vermont, is now fourth behind Clinton, Warren and Vice President Biden, according an averaging of polls by RealClearPolitics.com
“I think you miss the chance to vet ideals,” says Richard Fowler, a Democrat and host of the progressive-leaning “Richard Fowler Talk Show.” “I think that's what elections are about. Elections are about ideals and how ideals … would then turn into policy that will then turn into how we govern.”
Clinton, a former first lady, secretary of State and New York senator, hasn’t been in a campaign-style debate since 2008, when she lost the Democratic presidential primary to President Obama, then a freshman Illinois senator.
Still, a relatively easy 2016 primary, if Clinton indeed runs, would likely save her from the pummeling she took last time.
“You’re likeable enough, Hillary,” Obama said on stage to Clinton, who was the early Democratic frontrunner in that race, too.
Among the tough questions she will likely face, and needs to answer well, include what she knew about security at the U.S. outpost in Benghazi, Libya, in which four Americans were killed in a 2012 terror attack.
Clinton, who is worthy millions of dollars, also will likely have to make a strong case that she will champion the country’s poor and working class, after saying on her 2014 book tour: “We came out of the White House not only dead broke, but in debt.”
“Hillary Clinton, I think, has proven that when you're off the trail for a while, you come back rusty,” said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. “She certainly came back rusty on that book tour.”
Fox News’ John Roberts contributed to this report.