A Washington Post article by John F. Harris details Hillary's planned presidential PR offensive:
Although focused principally on her Senate reelection campaign next year, her advisers are informally -- and in some cases not so informally -- planning for a White House run.
A presidential campaign, Clinton's advisers acknowledge, would raise anew many of the old questions -- about her marriage, her motives, and her balance of pragmatism and principle -- that she successfully answered in her 2000 race in New York. She is the most popular politician in the state, even in many traditionally Republican areas upstate.
As her advisers see it, Clinton's Empire State campaign and her five years in the Senate are a potent rejoinder to a refrain commonly heard among Democrats anxious about a potential candidacy. As the skeptics see it, she could probably win a nomination by exciting Democratic partisans, but she remains too personally and ideologically polarizing a figure to win a general election. Some members of her team, discussing strategy on the condition that they not be identified by name, acknowledge that answering this skepticism is among her biggest challenges in the next two years...
The strategy, confidants say, has three elements. On social issues, it is to reassure moderate and conservative voters with such positions as her support of the death penalty, and to find rhetorical formulations on abortion and other issues -- on which her position is more liberal -- that she is nonetheless in sympathy with traditional values. On national security, it is to ensure that she has no votes or wavering statements that would give the GOP an opening to argue that she is not in favor of a full victory in Iraq. In her political positioning generally, it is to find occasions to prominently work across party lines -- to argue that she stands for pragmatism over the partisanship that many centrist voters especially dislike about Washington.
Behold this passage above -- it's a perfect summary of all the tropes claiming that Hillary can win. Let's run through them:
1) Americans will learn about the "true Hillary" and change their minds about her like New Yorkers have, even though she remains wildly polarizing and controversial outside the coasts.
2) Her not particularly noteworthy victory in a New York Senate race somehow proves that she can win nationally.
3) She can paper over her liberal positions with "rhetorical formulations" showing that "she is nonetheless in sympathy with traditional values."
Also, we finally get a definitive answer to a question I first raised when trying to figure out why she is running for the Senate in 2006. As I noted, she will be under intense pressure to make a pledge not to run for president, both from New Yorkers (who support a pledge) and the press. But apparently her camp thinks she can get away without making one:
Privately, her advisers say she may not have decided to run but she has definitely decided she wants to do everything necessary to keep her options open and allow her to launch a campaign if she decides to after 2006. Her out-of-state travel is increasingly strategic, including trips to swing states such as Ohio.
In 2000, she repeatedly pledged that she would finish her term without seeking the presidency. Aides say she will not issue such a pledge this time.
There's another factor to consider: the press. Bill and Hillary (and Al Gore) were savaged by the press; there's no reason to think Hillary will get off any easier this time around. In fact, it will be easy for the press and partisans to paste together some out-of-context anecdotes and quotations to bring the old Hillary back to life -- and then she's in trouble.
In particular, as I wrote, the press can use the pledge issue to reconstruct Hillary circa 1993-1994 and to frame her as dishonest:
[E]ven if she gets away without making a pledge, two years of slippery rhetoric and question-dodging will reinforce the meta-narrative that she is a dishonest, opportunistic politician like her husband, particularly as the media picks up on the parallels to him breaking his pledge to serve out his final term as governor of Arkansas. And if that meta-narrative shapes media coverage in 2007-2008, she has no chance in the general election.
(It's important to note that almost any Democrat could win in 2008 if the economy is in bad enough shape. But Hillary goes in with considerable disadvantages relative to almost any other potential nominee besides John Kerry.)