Hillary Clinton’s voting rights speech is essential for her future. Here’s why.

August 13, 2013

As Hillary Rodham Clinton weighs a second presidential run, there are certain steps she needs to take along the way to a decision. She took a couple of them in San Francisco Monday afternoon in a speech about voting rights.

Clinton can afford to keep a low public profile more than the other potential 2016ers. But she simply can't be a non-factor on the big issues of the day. If she were to do that, she'd face criticism that she was absent from the political debate for a couple of years, assuming she makes an announcement after the 2014 midterms.

She dove right into one big issue on Monday, weighing in with a lengthy take on a matter that has fired up the Democratic base.

When the Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act in June, Democrats all the way up to President Obama expressed swift and sharp disappointment. Meanwhile, the state-by-state battle over voter ID laws has also been a galvanizing force for party activists and leaders. The debate has thrust issues of race into the forefront of the political conversation.

“Anyone that says that racial discrimination is no longer a problem in American elections must not be paying attention,” Clinton told the annual gathering of the American Bar Association. She also criticized the court's ruling and singled out the states that have, in her view, the most voting repressive laws.

In all, it was a pretty impassioned address. It was also a necessary one for the potential White House contender.

Clinton doesn't need to cobble together a coalition in early nominating states or build the trust of key donors and power brokers like some other potential candidates do. Many Democrats are already lining up -- privately and publicly -- to support her, and she'd be the instant Democratic front-runner the moment she says the words.

But Clinton does need to get in the game, so to speak, on some key issues. Voting rights is one, not only for the reasons mentioned above. It's also a topic over which Clinton could begin to make her case as the heir apparent to Obama and try to persuade parts of his coalition -- minorities and liberals in particular -- to back her.

Gay marriage, for which she announced her support in March, is another. And there are more.

All of which brings us to the second thing Clinton did: She signaled that she will be weighing on other big issues in the coming months.

"Next month at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, I will talk about the balance and transparency necessary in our national security policies, as we move beyond a decade of wars to face new threats," Clinton said. "And later in the fall, I will address the implications of these issues for America's global leadership and our moral standing around the world."

The question of whether Clinton will run for president remains up in the air. Until she says yes or no, her every move will be scrutinized. And she'll be expected to weigh in, to some extent, on the issues the Democratic base are most concerned with right now. And that's just what she did on Monday.

Fixbits: 

It's Election Day in New Jersey! Polls close at 8 p.m. ET.

Obama will tout his economic message on a bus tour of New York and Pennsylvania next week.

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) signed an extensive voter ID law.

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) is officially running for reelection.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Democrats will have a candidate for the West Virginia Senate race to announce shortly.

Ron Paul said it's "safe to say" he is not a fan of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R).

The NRCC is hitting Rep. John Barrow (D-Ga.) with a $10,000 ad buy.

Anthony Weiner said the coverage of his campaign has been "fairly brutal."

Must-reads:

"Gansler said rival Brown relying on race in Maryland governor’s contest" -- John Wagner, Washington Post

"Eric Holder’s ‘mandatory minimums’ gamble" -- Josh Gerstein, Politico

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.
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Chris Cillizza · August 12, 2013