Gerald Herbert, Associated Press
WASHINGTON — As Hillary Rodham Clinton mulls a second presidential bid, liberals are closely watching whether the onetime supporter of the Iraq war moves to the left or straddles the center.
Democrats say economic issues such as raising the minimum wage and protecting Social Security have become paramount for anyone aiming to lead the party after years of tough economic times.
During the 2008 primary campaign against Barack Obama, Clinton was hurt by her stand on the Iraq war while she was a senator. But she burnished her image among party loyalists during four years at the State Department in the Obama administration. Now liberals want to see how she might carry the torch from Obama.
"We're going to see income inequality play the same role that the war in Iraq played in 2008," said Ilya Sheyman, executive director of MoveOn.org, a liberal advocacy group. "This is less about what she did before. The issue landscape right now is very different than in 2008."
Whether a viable Clinton alternative emerges for the 2016 campaign remains a looming question.
Vice President Joe Biden is leaving his options open. Some liberals hope Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., will reconsider statements that she has no plans to run. Others point to ex-Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, who addressed a progressive group in Iowa in December, or Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, who is considering a presidential run but endorsed Clinton in 2007.
Liberals have backed efforts by Warren to expand Social Security benefits instead of trimming them to keep the program solvent. In a speech at Colgate University last year, Clinton suggested she shared Obama's approach for a "grand bargain" style deficit reduction that would include increases to tax revenue and adjustments to entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare.
Progressives want Clinton to take a tougher stand on Wall Street. They grumble about her speeches at private financial conferences, where she can command fees of $200,000.
"It's a big unknown on where Hillary Clinton stands on issues like core economic populist issues," said Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. He said there are "a lot of people who want to support her and are rooting for her to adapt to the times" but if she doesn't, there will be room for a challenger.
On Super Bowl Sunday, liberals reacted favorably when Clinton urged fellow Democrats to avoid tougher penalties against Iran as the administration negotiates a comprehensive nuclear deal.
"I have no doubt that this is the time to give our diplomacy the space to work," Clinton wrote Democratic Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
During Hillary Clinton's White House run in 2008, her 2002 Senate vote to authorize military force in Iraq gave an opening to Obama. He had opposed the use of force as an Illinois state senator and used the vote to energize his supporters.
Liberals deemed Clinton too hawkish on defense and wondered whether the New York senator was too closely aligned with Wall Street and would continue the centrist policies of her husband.
Last year, liberals pressured Obama not to choose Lawrence Summers, a former Clinton treasury secretary, as Federal Reserve chairman, and have said Wall Street executives wrongly escaped prosecution for the near financial collapse of 2008.
Democratic strategist Donna Brazile said while some activists may not be enamored with Clinton, the former first lady can connect with them on issues like early childhood education and addressing poverty. "She will be on the right side of history when it comes to progressives," she said.
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