This time, Hillary Rodham Clinton wants to be on liberals’ good side.
As a presidential candidate in 2008, she opposed gay marriage, equivocated on granting driver’s licenses to people who were living in the U.S. illegally and endured heavy criticism from rival Barack Obama over her stance on campaign finance.
During the opening week of her second presidential campaign, Clinton showed she had retooled her positions to line up with the views of progressive Democrats. On Monday, she called for a constitutional amendment that would limit “unaccountable money” in politics. Days later, she said through her campaign that she supports same-sex marriage being recognized as a constitutional right in a pending Supreme Court case. After that, her campaign said she now supports state policies awarding licenses to people in the country illegally.
Such do-overs are part of an effort by Clinton to rectify past missteps and assure the liberal wing of her party that in 2016, she will be change they’ve been waiting for.
While Clinton enters the race in a dominant position, she faces skepticism from some Democrats who question her commitment to tackling income inequality.
“Equal opportunity and upward mobility have been very central to her political ideals from the start,” said Robert Reich, who was President Bill Clinton’s labor secretary and has known Hillary Clinton since college. “I just don’t know how courageous she will be in fighting for them.”
Clinton devoted the first week of her campaign trying to put such concerns to rest. She visits New Hampshire on Monday and Tuesday, returning to the state that handed her a 2008 primary victory early in the bruising nomination struggle won by Obama.
Aides spent much of the first 72 hours reaching out to union leaders, party officials and other interest groups. But for some who have met with her campaign staff, they wonder not about whether Clinton will tack to the left, but how far her proposals will go.
“There’s a big difference between a $9 or $10 minimum wage versus a $15 wage,” said Adam Green, a liberal activist who has talked with the campaign over the past months. “The big question we anticipate is, will they go big or will they go small?”
So far, at least a few are encouraged. At her opening event in Iowa, Clinton took on CEOs and hedge fund managers, saying the “deck is still stacked in favor of those already at the top.”
At the Statehouse, her support for universal pre-K earned some of the biggest applause from Democratic lawmakers, according to people in the room.
When she returned to New York, Clinton had words of praise in Time magazine for Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a liberal stalwart some have hoped would challenge the former secretary of state. “She never hesitates to hold powerful people’s feet to the fire: bankers, lobbyists, senior government officials and, yes, even presidential aspirants,” Clinton wrote.
News also leaked that Clinton had recruited former federal regulator Gary Gensler as her campaign’s chief financial officer, a sign that she may be preparing to take a tougher position toward regulating financial firms.
Potential rivals have jumped at the chance to question Clinton’s record and say she has shifted her positions on matters important to liberal voters.
“I’m glad Secretary Clinton’s come around to the right positions on these issues,” said former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who is considering running for the Democratic nomination. “Leadership is about making the right decision — and the best decision before sometimes it becomes entirely popular. ”
She’s faced this before. In 2008, Clinton’s hold on the nomination looked unshakeable. Then Obama captured Democrats’ imagination and proved a far more durable candidate than expected.
Clinton’s supporters say her recent comments, particularly on inequality, do not reflect a shift in position. In her 2008 primary campaign, Clinton stressed the need to help families struggling economically and she criticized hedge fund investors, oil company profits, drug company subsidies and trade agreements.
“She’s been an advocate for these issues of economic equality, fairness and playing by the rules for her whole career,” said Tom Nides, a Clinton confidant and Morgan Stanley vice chairman.
Clinton is not in the clear with liberals yet.
Liberal organizations say they plan to continue their push to draft Warren, and Democrats in early voting states say Clinton has work to do if she wants to be assured of winning the nomination.
Her decision to accept political donations from lobbyists — something Obama refused — may undercut her efforts to change the campaign finance system. Obama’s push for a trade pact with 11 Pacific nations will put Clinton between the centrist wing of her party and union leaders who oppose the deal. On Friday, her campaign said she would be “watching closely” efforts to negotiate a final agreement.
“There’s probably been some modicum of reassurance, but I wouldn’t push it too far because it’s just too early,” said Jared Bernstein, former economic adviser to Vice President Joe Biden and now a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Biden is considering a White House run.