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Hillary Clinton Opens Presidential Bid

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson plans to declare his intentions today and Delaware Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. has said he will be a candidate. The field also includes Ohio Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich. On the sidelines are Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts, the 2004 nominee, who is considering becoming a candidate, and former vice president Al Gore, the 2000 nominee, who has said he is not likely to run again.

The size and experience of the Democratic field underscores the reality that, for all of her support, fundraising potential and political muscle, Clinton continues to face questions about whether she can win a general election.

The electability issue comes in different forms. Will she suffer from a sense of Clinton fatigue on the part of many voters, who may be looking for the kind of fresh face Obama offers? Is she too defined as a partisan Democrat to fit the mood of an electorate that may be hungry for a different style of politics after eight years of the Clinton presidency and six years of Bush? Have the attacks against her as a cold and calculating politician created an image that, correct or incorrect, will be difficult to overcome?

Wasting no time to confront the issue, Clinton's campaign posted on its Web site a 1,250-word memo from strategist and pollster Mark Penn that begins: "People are always asking, can Hillary Clinton win the presidency? Of course she can."

"The number one asset we have is Hillary Clinton, her strength and leadership," Penn said in an interview. "As more and more people get to know her -- as they know her in New York -- they will like the leadership and the experience she represents."

But many Democrats say she will have to work to overcome skepticism about her candidacy inside the party. "Can they [voters] finally see the reality of Hillary Clinton, not the myth of Hillary Clinton?" said Mickey Kantor, who was commerce secretary in the Clinton administration and supports the senator's candidacy. "The money will be there. . . . The experienced people will be there. All those things she will have. But the image [is something] she will have to turn around in some parts of the country."

Clinton loyalists describe her as the least-known famous person in politics, by which they mean they do not believe people know the real Hillary Clinton. They hope to use town hall meetings, living-room coffees and interactive Internet conversations to reintroduce her to voters. On her Web site yesterday, Clinton emphasized her Midwestern middle-class roots and her cooperation with Republicans in the Senate.

All that may help to personalize her, but her advisers say the most effective way of overcoming questions about her electability is to focus voters' attention on what it takes to be president -- strength, intelligence, discipline and toughness -- all of which they say she already exhibits.

"At the end of the day, people are going to make a decision about who would be the best president, and that's the person they're going to vote for," campaign spokesman Howard Wolfson said.

Campaign officials also believe that Clinton's potential for making history as the nation's first female president will give the campaign added energy, a talking point emphasized in a memo sent to supporters yesterday. "In particular, younger generation women believe it's time we had our first woman president and believe Hillary is the right choice," the memo states.

The Post-ABC News poll demonstrates that she remains the candidate to beat for the nomination. Clinton led the Democratic field with 41 percent, followed by Obama with 17 percent, Edwards with 11 percent and Gore with 10 percent.

She had significantly greater support among women (49 percent) than men (30 percent) and drew about the same support from liberals (38 percent) as moderates (37 percent). Her strongest support came among nonwhite Democrats, 56 percent of whom backed her, despite the presence of Obama, who is the son of a black Kenyan father and white American mother.

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