Hillary Clinton formally announces 2016 bid for US presidency

Hillary Clinton
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Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton formally launched her candidacy for the U.S. presidency on Sunday, becoming the third officially declared candidate of the 2016 election cycle amid hopes to 'break the glass ceiling' as the first female leader of the free world.

Striking a populist message and putting an end to months of breathless speculation, the former First Lady said that she sought to be a "champion" for the average citizen in her second attempt at capturing the prize that eluded her in 2008.

"Americans have fought their way back from tough economic times," Clinton said via a videotaped campaign message. "But the deck is still stacked in favor of those at the top."

The news first came via an email to party stalwarts from John Podesta, Clinton's campaign chair and a longtime loyalist, who said Clinton would soon embark on a tour in Iowa, an early caucus state that she lost in 2008. The email preceded the launch of a campaign website and YouTube page.

Her widely anticipated second bid for the White House comes as the former U.S. First Lady and junior senator of New York just this week unveiled a campaign headquarters in Brooklyn—one of New York City's hippest redoubts and a bastion of Democratic votes.

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Yet her putative challengers in both the Democratic and Republican parties have a head start in making their case, and have spent weeks launching salvos at her record and image.

Former Maryland governor Martin O'Malley, a presumptive challenger for the Democratic nomination, has spent weeks attacking the idea of the presidency as "a crown to be passed between two families," an allusion to the Bush and Clinton dynasties that have dominated the political scene for more than two decades.

The anticipation surrounding Clinton's intentions, as well as the timing of the announcement itself, made her name one of top trending topics on Twitter and other social media outlets on Sunday.

Clinton served as the U.S.'s top foreign policy official from 2009 to 2013 and served in the senate seat once held by Daniel Patrick Moynihan. She was the first lady of the United States during the presidency of husband Bill Clinton, whom she met at Yale Law School.

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Clinton ran in the 2008 president election, ultimately narrowly losing the Democratic Party's nomination to Barack Obama despite beginning the primary season as the front-runner.

Her announcement comes at an auspicious juncture for her presidential aspirations. Although she departed Foggy Bottom with high approval ratings, renewed questions about her character and trustworthiness have surfaced amid a scandal involving the use of a private email server to conduct government business.

The scandal has taken a toll on her poll numbers: recent surveys show Clinton is the prohibitive favorite to win her party's nomination. However, she is now running neck and neck with virtually every major Republican challenger in key "swing" states—vote-rich places that often switch between support for Democratic and GOP candidates and are considered critical to winning the White House.

In anticipation of her announcement, potential Republican opponents have sharpened their attacks on Clinton's record and perceived trustworthiness. Kentucky Senator and GOP presidential hopeful Rand Paul said on Sunday that the former top U.S. diplomat's role in the death of four Americans in Benghazi, Libya during her tenure cast doubt on her ability to serve as commander in chief.

At a speech before the National Rifle Association just days ago, Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz, the first officially declared candidate of the 2016 election cycle, excoriated both President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton on the issues of foreign policy and gun rights.

Separately, former Florida governor Jeb Bush—who has yet to declare his own widely expected bid—released a video through his political action committee that said the country "must do better than the Obama-Clinton foreign policy that has damaged relationships with our allies and emboldened our enemies.''

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As Secretary of State, Clinton won plaudits for her focus on empowering women worldwide and promoting commercial ties as a form of American soft power. She has drawn criticism, however, for a lack of any signature agreements or breakthroughs during her tenure.

Others have criticized Clinton's handling of the 2012 attack on a consulate in Benghazi, which saw the death of a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans. Some lawmakers accused the State Department of severe security failings and claimed Clinton participated in a subsequent cover-up.

Meanwhile, questions have swirled around the finances of the Clinton Foundation, the massive philanthropy run by the former president, the Secretary of State and their daughter Chelsea. The organization's acceptance of foreign contributions, some during Clinton's tenure as Secretary of State, has ignited widespread concerns about conflicts of interest.

Despite the looming controversies, a 2016 Clinton presidential run has seemed inevitable to many in the Democratic party. Most national polls cite her as an easy favorite for the Democratic nomination—even after a recent furor over her use of a private email server while at Foggy Bottom.

--Reuters contributed to this report.