WASHINGTON—Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York made it official Saturday: She's running and means to use all her political strengths, overcome her equally formidable weaknesses, and become the first woman president in U.S. history.
"I'm in. And I'm in to win," Clinton said in an Internet announcement that she's forming a presidential exploratory committee.
Fresh from re-election to a second term, the 59-year-old Democrat stressed her potentially ground-breaking role as a woman candidate.
"We will make history and remake our future," she said. "We can only break barriers if we dare to confront them."
She also ran directly at her most glaring weakness—the perception that she is too polarizing a figure to win a general election against a Republican.
"I know how Washington Republicans think, how they operate, and how to beat them," she said.
Her announcement Saturday followed those earlier this week by Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois and late last month by former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, filling out the top tier of what likely will be a long and bruising campaign for the Democratic nomination.
Clinton enters the campaign in a unique role as a former first lady already known by most of the country.
"People love her or hate her," said Dennis Goldford, a political scientist at Drake University in Iowa. "The question is, are there enough in the middle to make a difference?"
In a clash of Clinton nostalgia and Clinton fatigue, she starts out with enormous assets other candidates can only envy:
_A name brand enormously popular in the party;
_A yearning for the seeming peace and prosperity of the Clinton `90s;
_A large network of friends and allies built through three decades of work on public policies such as children's issues and health care;
_$13 million in the bank available from her last Senate campaign—and the combined fundraising muscle of a base in New York and her husband's friends in Hollywood.
She leads Democrats in one recent series of polls in all four of the states slated to start the nomination voting next January—Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire and South Carolina—but does not enjoy a commanding lead in any of them.
Polls last month by the American Research Group found her with the support of about a third of likely caucus and primary voters in those states, followed by Edwards or Obama.
She also starts with glaring weaknesses, including:
_Weariness of Clinton scandals;
_Fear that she's peaked and cannot win over any more support than she already has—or any of the red states that went for Republicans in past elections.
_Complaints from the anti-war base of her party that she hasn't called her vote for the Iraq war a mistake, or taken a harder stance against it now.
"The feeling is that, if she gets the nomination, there goes the South," said Goldford. "She starts about 170 electoral votes in the hole. Then she has to win 75 percent of the remaining electoral votes."
Clinton is not the first woman to seek a major party nomination. But she starts with the best chance of any in history.
"I am one of the millions of women who have waited all their lives to see the first woman sworn in as president of the United States, and now we have our best opportunity to see that dream fulfilled," said Ellen Malcolm, president of EMILY's List, a group that raises campaign cash for Democratic women who support abortion rights.
The group endorsed Clinton within hours of her announcement.
Clinton aides also noted that women will be an "X factor" in the 2008 election, making up as much as 54 percent of general election voters.
"Many, particularly those in the younger generation, believe it is about time this country had its first woman president," said Clinton pollster Mark Penn.
They also insisted that rather than scarring Clinton, scandal and negative campaigns have proven Clinton's mettle.
"Hillary is the one potential nominee who has been fully tested," Penn said, an apparent reference to Obama's recent appearance on the national stage.
"Senator Clinton is a good friend and a colleague whom I greatly respect," Obama said in a statement Saturday. "I welcome her and all the candidates, not as competitors, but as allies in the work of getting our country back on track."
Clinton planned to follow up with live, web-based videoconferences with voters Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday evenings at 7 p.m.—available through her website, www.hillaryclinton.com. The timing allows her to compete with the coverage surrounding President Bush's State of the Union address Tuesday night.
She also was considering making her first campaign trips to Iowa and New Hampshire in coming weeks.
For more on her campaign, www.hillaryclinton.com
IS IT 2008 YET?
Democrats: Who's in:
_New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton
_Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards
_Illinois Sen. Barack Obama
_Former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack
_Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd
_Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich
_New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (expected to announce Sunday)
_Delaware Sen. Joe Biden
_Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry
_Retired Gen. Wesley Clark of Arkansas
_Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh
_Former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner
Republicans: Who's in:
_Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback
_Arizona Sen. John McCain
_Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney
_Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani
_Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia
_Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel
_Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee
_Former New York Gov. George Pataki
_Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo
(c) 2007, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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