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Hillary running....away from Obama

Hillary Clinton speaks at the 2013 Clinton Global Initiative in New York.
Adam Jeffery | CNBC
Hillary Clinton speaks at the 2013 Clinton Global Initiative in New York.

President Barack Obama's approval rating hit a new low this week as fallout from the disastrous health care rollout mounted.

The plummeting job rating could limit the president's ability to get much done the last three years of his term. But it has even bigger ramifications for the most prominent Democrat who hopes to succeed him in 2016: Hillary Clinton.

Clinton is clearly aware of this problem and taking early steps to run not as Obama's successor but as his antidote, a pragmatic, business friendly moderate who will ease the constant partisan strife in Washington and focus all her energy on creating jobs and growing the economy.

The signs of her early efforts to move away from Obama are subtle but unmistakable. As Philip Rucker noted in The Washington Post this week, Clinton's recent speeches, along with those of her husband, former President Bill Clinton, tend to roast everyone in Washington for creating a climate corrosive to economic expansion.

Both Clintons train most of their rhetorical fire on Republicans. But their message extends to the entirety of the Washington power structure, which tacitly includes Obama.

(Read more: It's crisis time for Obamacare)

"We are careening from crisis to crisis instead of having a plan, bringing people to that plan, focusing on common-sense solutions and being relentless in driving toward them," Hillary Clinton said at the Center for American Progress last week in a speech that could easily have come from a corporate CEO.

The movement away from Obama is also clear in Clinton's relationship with financial industry leaders in New York.

Obama still turns up in Manhattan for fundraising events he detests. But Wall Street long ago gave up on the idea of having any real relationship with or influence on the president, who spent a good bit of time ripping financial executives as "fat cats" standing in the way of reform. Obama has also shown more interest in what elite opinion columnists have to say than he has in listening to corporate executives.

Clinton, for her part, gave not one but two speeches at Goldman Sachs events in the last two weeks. She was well-paid for her time but showing up at all suggests she will not run away from the financial sector, or corporate America more broadly, in 2016.

(Read more: Wall Street de Blasio fears 'overblown')

Talk to anyone on Wall Street—even Republicans who strongly supported Mitt Romney—and there is a palpable hunger for the kind of message Clinton is now delivering.

And she obviously drew lessons from her own disastrous attempts at health-care reform in 1993 and 1994 and has jettisoned her more progressive instincts for a cooler pragmatic approach.

There is certainly a chance that Obama is only suffering a temporary decline following weeks of bad headlines on Syria, NSA leaks and now the health care problems, which include the incontrovertible fact that the president said people could keep their plans and now millions cannot.

(Read more: Obama's standing drops after health-care fiasco, shutdown)

The president has the benefit that Republicans are currently held in even lower regard than he is following the government shutdown and debt ceiling crisis. And there is a long time between now and when the Democratic primary process begins in late 2015.

But the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll showed an intense public disregard for everyone in Washington, and there is little to suggest things will improve much in the next couple years assuming divided government continues after the 2014 midterm elections.

So Hillary Clinton may wind up moving away from Obama in 2016 and doing what Al Gore refused to do in 2000: run for Bill Clinton's third term.

—By Ben White, POLITICO's chief economic correspondent and a CNBC contributor. White also authors the daily tip sheet POLITICO Morning Money [politico.com/morningmoney] Follow him onTwitter @morningmoneyben.