Clinton Will Run for President

WASHINGTON -- New York Democratic Senator Hillary Clinton on Saturday launched a long-anticipated 2008 presidential campaign that could make her the first female president in the nation's history and the only former first lady to follow her husband to the White House.

"I'm in and I'm in to win," Clinton said on her campaign web site early in the morning, and then spent the day at her Washington home making calls to supporters, donors and friends. Her announcement was deliberately timed to come shortly before President George W. Bush's State of the Union address Tuesday night, campaign advisers said, so she can draw a contrast with the administration's record and help focus attention on the office of the presidency.

Their hope, they said, is to establish Clinton as the candidate best prepared to become the first Democrat in the White House since Bush succeeded Bill Clinton six years ago.

"The stakes will be high when America chooses a new president in 2008," she said in a statement that was posted on her web site along with a video announcement. "As a senator, I will spend two years doing everything in my power to limit the damage George W. Bush can do. But only a new president will be able to undo Bush's mistakes and restore our hope and optimism."

Clinton begins the long campaign as the clear front-runner for the Democratic nomination, according to a nationwide Washington Post-ABC News poll completed Friday night. The poll showed her the favorite of 41 percent of Democrats, giving her more than double the support of any of her potential rivals.

Illinois Senator Barack Obama, who established his exploratory committee last week, has generated enormous interest and attention, putting the Clinton camp on notice. The poll put him in second place among Democrats at 17 percent, but his support has not increased over the past month as he has moved toward a formal candidacy.

In hypothetical general election match-ups against the two most prominent prospective Republican candidates, Clinton narrowly leads Arizona Senator John McCain and is running about even with former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.

In her video statement, Clinton made only a glancing reference to the war in Iraq. She has emerged as a vocal critic of the president and opposes his proposal to send more than 20,000 additional troops into the conflict. But she voted for the war in 2002 and angered some party antiwar activists by standing behind that vote until last month.

Regardless, Clinton brings considerable assets to the race.

As a former first lady now serving her second term in the Senate, she has one of the best-known names in U.S. politics. She has a national network of supporters, the capacity to raise as much or more money than any of her rivals, and a resume of political activity dating back decades that now includes six years in the Senate and a landslide re-election victory in November.

And for the past 15 years, she has shown an ability to weather sometimes harsh attacks from her critics, especially among conservatives.

But those considerable assets have done nothing to ward off a sizable cadre of rivals. That group includes, in addition to Obama, former North Carolina Senator John Edwards, Connecticut Senator Christopher Dodd and former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack, all of whom have established campaign committees.