If Hillary Clinton runs for president again in 2016, it will be her race to lose.
Clinton was the early front-runner back in 2008, and it wasn't even close. Then Barack Obama came out of nowhere and, well, you know the rest.
With the Clinton ground game already well underway, some are beginning to question whether Clinton is in danger of falling into the same trap as last time around. In the latest round of hand-wringing, Obama advisers and former aides tell Buzzfeed that Clinton is "building a machine in lieu of a message and lumbering toward the Democratic nomination with the same deep vulnerabilities that cost her the nomination eight years earlier."
The concerns are the same ones we've heard before: being the front-runner so far out from the primaries makes Clinton look entitled, and gives opponents and the press more time to pick her apart. Her biggest problem, in other words, is her perceived inevitability. Given all the headlines proclaiming Clinton the nominee-in-waiting — two recent cover stories blared "Can anyone stop Hillary?" and "Planet Hillary" — the aura of inevitability is as alive now as ever.
So could Clinton really step on the same rake a second time?
Probably not. It's way to early to predict, but Clinton is far better-positioned to win this time.
At this point in the 2008 race, polls didn't even list Obama as a candidate. But he had burst onto the national scene at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, and by 2008 was a best-selling author, a household name, and the Democratic Party's brightest young star.
Obama was young, affable, and backed by an unrivaled campaign both in terms of digital savvy and grassroots prowess. As a black man, he was also a historic candidate, winning the near unanimous support of one of the Democratic Party's most important constituencies.
This time, Clinton has an even bigger early lead. A Washington Post-ABC poll last month gave her a 61-point edge on her nearest Democratic rival, the biggest gap in the survey's 30-year history of asking that question.
And despite all the efforts to create buzz around an anyone-but-Clinton candidate, there is simply no Obama-like figure waiting in the wings. Elizabeth Warren has been getting a lot of attention since The New Republic dubbed her Clinton's "nightmare," but Warren has explicitly said she has no desire to run and signed a letter urging Clinton to get in the race. Meanwhile, Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) and former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D) are indicating they might run, but neither are even close to approaching the stature of Clinton, who would enter the race with a seriously impressive resume that includes a stint as secretary of State in the Obama administration.
That gets to another Clinton strength. In the past four years, she and her husband have gone to great lengths to repair relations with disaffected liberals who flocked to Obama in 2008. And while the Democratic Party has adopted a more populist tone of late, Clinton's centrist economic tendencies are not the deal breaker that the Iraq War was.
More importantly, Clinton has the cash to back her up. The massive Priorities USA — the largest Democratic super PAC in the nation — is already getting behind her potential candidacy. And — surprise! — it's founded and run by some of those hyper-competent former Obama folks.
"I think the numbers clearly show that she's the strongest presidential candidate on the Democratic side," Jim Messina, Obama's 2012 campaign manager, told The New York Times. "And Priorities is going to be there for her if she decides to run."
But though it's too early to guess how Clinton will fare, one thing is certain: until the last vote is cast, she'll always be dogged by the question of whether she's going to blow it.