Hillary, Biden gear up for 2016

Washington, Feb. 2: For Hillary Rodham Clinton, it was a farewell yesterday which had shades of the departure of Thomas Jefferson, America's first secretary of state, who went on to become US President seven years later.

As Clinton was clearing her desk in Foggy Bottom, seat of the US state department this week, her most ardent supporters were already at the Federal Election Commission, registering two political action committees or PACs to draft her as a candidate in the next presidential election four years hence.

Much of her last interview as America's top diplomat for four years, selectively given to a woman correspondent of ABC some 48 hours before her resignation became effective yesterday afternoon was about her undeclared, indeed vociferously denied, candidacy for the White House in 2016.

Like seasoned politicians everywhere, Clinton denied any role in setting up the PACs. She even denied knowledge of their formation. "I didn't even know about some of these things that are happening now." However, she was careful to add that "I am flattered and honoured... But I am really not focused on that at all. I have no plans or intentions."

Of the two PACs, "Ready for Hillary" acquired some 50,000 Twitter followers and nearly 30,000 "likes" on Facebook within two days. "Ready for Hillary" is the brainchild of Allida Black, a George Washington University professor, who steered Clinton's 2008 presidential primary effort in Virginia and raised money for her.

A "draft Clinton" website is due out the next week and Black told The Hill, the newspaper of record on Capitol Hill, this week that "the fireworks will begin" soon after. The second organisation, "HillaryClintonSuperPAC", has been set up by a Clinton supporter in Iowa, Nigel Wallace. Significantly, Iowa is where the first major event in the US presidential nominating process takes place by convention.

Barack Obama has a full four-year term ahead in the White House, but in Washington the first tentative steps for choosing his successor in 2016 are already being taken. If Clinton thought she was a shoo-in as the Democratic Party's nominee in the next election, it has come as a surprise that Vice-President Joe Biden is making his moves to shift to the White House after Obama shifts out.

The buzz around Biden's candidacy actually began a week before Americans had even voted Obama into office for a second term. Campaigning in Sarasota in Florida, Biden told a local Republican whom he could not convince about the virtues of Obama's healthcare reform that "after it is all over, when your insurance rates go down, then you will vote for me in 2016".

It was briefly picked up by reporters who were following the Vice-President on the campaign trail but was soon forgotten in the heat of the impending vote then.

On election day, while waiting to vote in his home state of Delaware, he was asked if this was the last time he will be voting for himself.

Biden, unfazed, replied "No, I don't think so." But discretion got the better of him and he joked that he would contest for the local county council "or something" after retiring as Vice-President.

Reporters who asked that question may have been focusing on Biden's longevity in public life as well as his age. Biden has been a Senator since 1972 when he met the 30-year age requirement for the job. He will be 74 in 2016, the oldest President-elect if he throws his hat into the ring then. Clinton would only be 69 in 2016.

It is, of course, too early to speculate on who Obama will anoint as his successor, but it has not been lost on pundits here that the President has already handed over domestic initiatives which will impact the next election to his Vice-President.

It is Biden who is leading the gun-control task force which has immense popular interest and he was the one who finally sealed the almost intractable agreement on avoiding America's dreaded fiscal cliff before the new presidential term got off.

In American politics, symbols are important and Clinton's last interview was in a setting where Thomas Jefferson loomed over her. The image was not lost on the interviewer. "Good to talk to you, Cynthia," Clinton said at the end of her interview. "As Jefferson looks over our shoulder," remarked the reporter, "who I would only point out was secretary of state who went on to become President."

Clinton responded: "I have heard that."

Obviously the portrait of Jefferson in place was not a coincidence. Like Clinton, Jefferson too announced his retirement from politics when he resigned as secretary of state in 1794 under circumstances vastly different from those surrounding Clinton's departure from the administration.

Two years later, he was back as Vice-President and later became President. He ruled for eight years and was succeeded by James Madison, who was his secretary of state.

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