TIME Hillary Clinton

How Hillary Clinton is Trying to Win Over Liberal Critics  

Hillary Rodham Clinton at a campaign event at the Kirkwood Community College in Monticello, Iowa, on Apr. 14, 2015.
Michael B. Thomas—AFP/Getty Images Hillary Rodham Clinton at a campaign event at the Kirkwood Community College in Monticello, Iowa, on Apr. 14, 2015.

If you can't defeat them, entreat them

During her first bid for president, Hillary Clinton was attacked for supporting the Iraq War and being too cozy with Wall Street. She flew in a helicopter between events in Iowa and mostly appeared at massive rallies, where her distance from voters was in plain sight.

And in June 2008, the nomination went to then-Sen. Barack Obama, a candidate viewed by many Democrats as more liberal and populist.

As she began her second campaign for the Democratic nomination, there are signs that Clinton will not let the same mistake happen twice. Rather than beginning with a big speech, Clinton embarked on a low-key road trip to Iowa, where she met voters in intimate groups and hit all the notes in the populist songbook.

She criticized Wall Street and called for reducing the influence of money in politics. She endorsed expanded pre-kindergarten programs, expansive immigration reform and gay rights, and she decried income inequality and economic barriers to everyday Americans.

“There is something wrong when hedge fund managers pay lower tax rates than nurses, or the truckers that I saw on I-80 as I was driving here,” Clinton said in Monticello, Iowa, on Tuesday. “We have to figure out in this country how to get back on the right track.”

Clinton’s rhetoric signals a leftward turn for the 67-year-old candidate. Rather than run her campaign as an experienced moderate, as she did eight years ago, Clinton is flexing her liberal credentials and reaching out to the Democratic Party’s restive progressive base.

She is also protecting her left flank. Clinton is already being questioned by potential opponents and progressive groups who hope Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren would run for president. By appealing to progressives, she hopes to snuff out a spark of opposition before it can catch fire.

“If she doesn’t move to the left and really convince us she’s going to be a little more progressive, she cannot win the caucus in Iowa,” Democratic Party chair of Cedar County, Larry Hodgden said last week before Clinton’s inaugural campaign tour.

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley has emerged as one of the most vocal likely opponents to Clinton, traveling extensively in Iowa and New Hampshire with a not-so-subtle message for Democrats in those states: I’m the true progressive.

MORE: Hillary Clinton begins Campaign Her Way in Iowa

O’Malley criticized Clinton’s recent shifts on immigration and gay marriage at an appearance Thursday at Harvard University.

“I’m glad Secretary Clinton’s come around to the right positions on these issues,” said O’Malley. “I believe that we are best as a party when we lead with our principles and not according to the polls.”

Meanwhile, Clinton plans to hire a former federal financial regulatory with a record of strong oversight, Gary Gensler, as the chief financial officer of her campaign, Bloomberg reported yesterday. And this week she brought on three policy advisors this week, including Maya Harris of the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank.

She said week she supports a proposal by President Obama for free community college tuition, and said she would be in favor of a constitutional amendment on campaign finance reform.

If Clinton’s aim in her first week was win over liberal groups, she appears to have a good start.

“In the first 100 hours of her campaign, we’ve seen many positive steps in an economic populist direction from Hillary Clinton,” said the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a supporter of Sen. Warren, in a statement. “We hope these rhetorical steps are soon backed up by big, bold, populist policy specifics.”

Small Iowa groups that will be important in the caucus are taking Clinton seriously as well. Sue Dinsdale, director of the Iowa Citizen Action Network, a progressive political group based in Des Moines, said she appreciated Clinton’s progressive approach.

“It’s a juxtaposition with her past, but we all have a past,” Dinsdale said. “I think she is genuine.”

“I’m glad to see her taking progressive views on things,” she said.

Clinton has yet to announce firm positions on a number of platforms, something she plans to do in the coming months as her campaign gathers momentum. Her likely challengers, including O’Malley and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, have already articulated their views on several progressive issues.

MORE: Could This Man Beat Hillary Clinton in Iowa?

On Thursday, O’Malley reiterated his platform: reinstate the Glass-Steagall Act, which separated commercial and investment banks; regulate Wall Street; and implement campaign finance reform.

He also aligned himself with labor groups in denouncing the Trans-Pacific Partnership and voiced support for a $15-minimum wage.

“Free markets, by themselves, do not create the generational wealth of great nations,” O’Malley said. “Rational, hard-working, patriotic and caring human beings do.”

Clinton has staked out some positions already. Last year, she said in an interview with NPR she supports gay marriage activism on a “state-by-state” basis; this week, her campaign said that Clinton hopes the Supreme Court will grant same-sex couples a constitutional right to marry — a decision that would play out at the federal level.

And in 2007, Clinton said she opposed allowing undocumented immigrants to own drivers licenses; this week, her campaign announced she supports it.

O’Malley, who touts his support for gay marriage and immigration reform as governor, criticized Clinton for changing her views. He’s also criticized the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a 12-nation trade deal that President Obama and congressional Republicans support but labor unions oppose.

“We must stop entering into bad trade deals—bad trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership—that hurt middle class wages and ship middle class jobs overseas,” he said.

On Friday, the Clinton campaign said in a statement to the New York Times she would not reject a trade deal that would “raise wages and create more good jobs at home.”

MORE: Chelsea Clinton Gets Ready to Take the Stage


Martin O’Malley Criticizes Hillary Clinton for Flip-Flopping

Potential Presidential Candidate Martin O'Malley Speaks At Scott County Democratic Dinner
Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images Martin O'Malley, former governor of Maryland and potential Democratic presidential candidate, during the Scott County Democratic Party dinner in Davenport, Iowa, U.S., on Friday, March 20, 2015.

He touted his own credentials on immigration and same-sex marriage

Former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley had some sharp words Thursday evening for Hillary Clinton, who in the first week of her campaign has taken a more liberal stance on same-sex marriage and immigration.

“I’m glad Secretary Clinton’s come around to the right positions on these issues,” said O’Malley, who will likely challenge Clinton for the Democratic nomination for President. “I believe that we are best as a party when we lead with our principles and not according to the polls.”

“Leadership is about making the right decision, and the best decision before sometimes it becomes entirely popular,” he continued.

Clinton has adopted a more populist tone than she has in the past during her recent tour this week to Iowa, where she made her first stops on the 2016 campaign trail.

Last year, Clinton said in an interview with NPR that she supports gay-marriage activism on a “state by state” basis; this week, her campaign announced Clinton supports a Supreme Court ruling that would grant same-sex couples a constitutional right to marry — a decision that would play out at the federal level.

MORE Could This Man Beat Hillary Clinton in Iowa?

And in 2007, Clinton said she opposed allowing undocumented immigrants to own driver’s licenses. This week her campaign announced she supports it.

O’Malley has trumpeted his past support for both those issues as governor of Maryland. He sponsored a same-sex-marriage bill in the state that passed in 2012 — among the first in the nation to be approved by voters — and signed a law in 2013 that allowed illegal immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses.

The former governor would run his campaign to the left of Clinton as a more progressive challenger. He currently registers as a blip in the polls but has greeted receptive audiences in Iowa and New Hampshire, where caucus-goers are eager for a more competitive race.

The likely candidate has begun criticizing Clinton as he begins laying the groundwork for his own likely campaign. In an interview late last month on ABC, O’Malley swiped at Clinton, saying that the “presidency of the United States is not some crown to be passed between two families.”

O’Malley said he will make a final decision about running for President by the end of May.

Read next: What Hillary Clinton Did Before Her Campaign

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TIME chelsea clinton

Chelsea Clinton Gets Ready to Take the Stage

President Obama Speaks At The Annual Clinton Global Initiative
Spencer Platt—Getty Images Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and daughter Chelsea Clinton are viewed in the audience as U.S. President Barack Obama, who is in New York City for the 69th Session of the United Nations General Assembly, speaks at the Clinton Global Initiative on September 23, 2014 in New York City.

Chelsea has stepped up since her mother's first presidential bid

Shortly after a ferocious earthquake rocked Haiti in January 2010, Chelsea Clinton arrived near Port-au-Prince. With a small group of health workers she toured a makeshift camp where the newly homeless slept under tarps and hastily built tents and used open latrines.

“Her father would probably kill me,” Dr. Paul Farmer, the renowned global health worker who accompanied Chelsea, told TIME. “I don’t think he would have been happy with me taking her into a crowded camp.” Chelsea then advised Farmer to set up a hospital to train Haitian doctors and nurses, quietly helping connect the hospital with logistical support and international aid. “She’s a good person to have around you in a bad situation,” Farmer said.

There have always been two sides to the Clinton family. The public-facing side, most often personified by Bill, is out on the stump, hustling for votes and selling the latest policy ideas. The private-facing side, most often personified by Hillary, works behind the scenes, connecting key players and diving deep into the wonkish details.

To date, Chelsea Clinton’s forte has been outside the spotlight, working with people like Farmer and international charities. At the Clinton Foundation, where she is now vice chair, she has a reputation as a data nerd who will dig into briefs to see if money is being spent efficiently and effectively. Aside from campaign appearances for her mother in 2008 and a stint at NBC News, she’s done most of her work away from the public eye.

That’s about to change. As Hillary Clinton launches the largest Democratic presidential campaign in American history, her daughter will be close by. Democrats say that Chelsea will give a big boost to the campaign, making her mother seem more approachable and adding a valuable surrogate spokeswoman.

“She’s definitely someone I expect will be in the center of the room and commanding an audience in a way she may not have wanted to eight years ago,” said a source close to the campaign. “She’s obviously grown up a lot since 2008.”

Chelsea has experience on the stump. Her part in the 2008 campaign began when she quit her job to represent her mother’s on the trail, eventually doing more than 400 events in 40 states over the course of five months, she said in an interview with TIME in 2012. As a liaison between her mother and millennial voters, Chelsea said the experience reminded her “that politics has to be part of any solutions for the future,” she later recalled, and that “everyone needed to participate and have their voices heard at the ballot box.”

As 2016 approaches, however, Chelsea’s role will likely grow. She’ll be in demand during the campaign: Americans increasingly want female candidates to talk about their families, according to the Barbara Lee Family Foundation, a nonpartisan group that researches women in politics.

“It’s believable and real when you’re talking about your kids and grandkids,” said Adrienne Kimmell, executive director of the Barbara Lee foundation. “Voters connect with that.”

Hillary appears to have taken note, and has discussed her family often in the recent months. “I have a new granddaughter, and I want her to have every opportunity. But I want every child in our country to have every opportunity,” she said at a campaign stop this week in Monticello, Iowa, on Tuesday. “And that’s one of the main reasons that I decided to run.”

With her mother likely to focus on her family and her personal life more in this campaign than eight years, Chelsea will be a key voice. The mother-daughter duo’s connection on stage is apparent: Hillary calls her daughter “Chels,” and Chelsea feels comfortable correcting her mother. Chelsea’s natural connection with younger voters makes her an important complement on the campaign trail to her 67-year-old mother. Emily Lobbato, a 22-year-old who saw Chelsea and her mother at an event last month, says “Chelsea and Hillary remind me of me and my mom.”

Since 2008, Chelsea has also played an increasingly active role in the family business. She has become a force at her family’s $2 billion philanthropy, the Clinton Foundation, appearing on stage at a number of events. Behind the scenes, she advocated for a data and metrics office, as well as a partnership with the high-end data company Palantir, a stats review to help inform Foundation projects. She also pushed for organizational overhauls and implementing a 2011 Simpson Thacher review recommendations for tighter fiscal oversight.

Eric Braverman, recently CEO of the Foundation, worked previously with Chelsea at the consultancy McKinsey & Company. She’s also ruffled some feathers along the way, primarily the old guard at the Foundation who saw Chelsea as the face of change as it expanded. In 2013, the foundation was renamed the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Foundation.

“Chelsea has her own background and her own political savvy,” said Democratic strategist Celinda Lake. “She’s part of the multi-generational Clinton story. She’s a major asset.”

Much like her mother, Chelsea is a private operator, eschewing media attention except in controlled scenarios. The account of her visit to Haiti in 2010 with Farmer was never reported, and neither has much of her humanitarian work with the Foundation. During the 2008 campaign, she mostly stuck to a script and avoided speaking to reporters at campaign stops. In one case, she even refused a question from a nine-year-old reporter from Scholastic News. “I’m sorry, I don’t talk to the press and that applies to you, unfortunately—even though I think you’re cute,” Chelsea said at the time.

If Chelsea is vulnerable to criticism, it’s an essentially Clintonian one: however committed to public service she may be, she lives a protected life. She and her husband Marc Mezvinsky, a hedge fund manager, bought a Manhattan condominium for reportedly over $9 million. She earned a $600,000-per-year salary working as a correspondent at NBC News, and her and Mezvinsky’s wedding reportedly cost $5 million.

But if some criticize the Clintons for being too cozy around wealth and power in Washington and New York, Chelsea has so far appeared to escape such scrutiny, in part because she has learned to play the public-facing side better.

In an unscripted moment at a Clinton Foundation event in Miami, Chelsea mentioned a study that shows there are more men named John, Robert, William or James on corporate boards than there are total women corporate directors. Upon hearing that statistic, Hillary, who was on stage with Chelsea, joked, “sounds like we need to change our names!” Chelsea emphatically cut in to raucous applause: “No, we need to change the system.”

Michelle Bernardino, a 24-year-old student who attended the presentation said afterwards, “That’s what sticks with me,” Bernardino said of Chelsea’s role. “That it’s about changing the institutions.”

Read next: Clinton Foundation Will Still Accept Foreign Donations From 6 Countries

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TIME film

The Coca-Cola Bottle is Getting Its Own Documentary

Assorted Antique Bottle Caps
Blank Archives—Getty Images An assortment of American soda, juice, and beer bottle caps mostly from the 1950s and early 1960s. Some are flipped-over to show cork backing. (Photo by Blank Archives/Getty Images)

It's the bottle's 100th anniversary

A documentary about the classic Coca-Cola bottle? It’s about time.

Timed to its 100th anniversary, Matthew Miele will produce a documentary this year on the bottle’s history, according to the Hollywood Reporter. The film will focus on the bottle since its invention in 1915 and its influence on pop art, cinema and artists like Andy Warhol.

“When I can hold up a Coca-Cola bottle and ask, ‘is this art or is this commerce?’ and most commonly hear ‘it’s both,’ that sets the stage for an intriguing narrative,” said Miele, who intends to interview personalities and luminaries across various industries.

Coca-Cola has approved the project and will help pay for marketing.


TIME 2016 Election

Hillary Clinton Could Be the First Ex-Cabinet Member to Win a Presidential Nomination Since 1928

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sp
SAUL LOEB—AFP/Getty Images Then-US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks during a press conference following meetings at the US State Department in Washington, DC, with German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle on January 20, 2012.

The cabinet member-turned-presidential nominee is a rare breed

If Hillary Clinton wins the Democratic nomination for president next year, she’ll be the first former Cabinet member to get a party’s presidential nod in almost 90 years.

The former Secretary of State launched her bid for the White House on Sunday afternoon, marking the first time since 1928 that any former cabinet member had a serious shot at the presidential nomination, according to data collected by the Pew Research Center.

The overwhelming majority of Democratic or Republican nominees in recent years have been incumbent presidents, governors, senators or vice presidents, like then-Sen. Barack Obama, former Gov. Mitt Romney, and Sen. John McCain.

In 1928, Commerce Secretary Herbert Hoover won the Republican nomination and then the presidency. Thomas Jefferson, who was the first U.S. Secretary of State, was the first former cabinet member to become president.

Clinton, who has also been a senator, would also be the first-ever First Lady to win her party’s nomination.

TIME 2016 Election

Hillary Clinton Resigns From Foundation Board

The former Secretary of States steps aside to "devote myself to this new, all-encompassing endeavor" of running for president

Hillary Clinton resigned from the board of the Clinton Foundation on Sunday night as she launched her 2016 campaign for president.

“While I have cherished my time serving on the board and engaging in the day-to-day work of the Foundation, in order to devote myself to this new, all-encompassing endeavor, I have resigned from the board of directors effective today,” Clinton wrote in an internal email obtained by the New York Times.

She sent the email about an hour-and-a-half after announcing the launch of her campaign in a video.

The finances of the foundation have already provided fodder for attacks by Republicans, who have hammered it for accepting foreign donations.


TIME 2016 Election

Meet the People From Hillary Clinton’s Launch Video

Many of them are longtime Clinton supporters

The stars of the video that launched Hillary Clinton’s second bid for president Sunday are the everyday Americans who the former Secretary of State hopes to showcase as she tries to win the White House. And many of them have one thing in common: They’re fans of Hillary Clinton.

In order to make the two-and-a-half minute video that kicked off Clinton’s second presidential campaign, her video team found volunteers through the large circles of people who have supported Democratic campaigns in the past. The video features Hispanic brothers opening their first business, an African-American couple expecting a baby boy, a worker starting a job at a fifth-generation family-owned manufacturing facility. And it also showed Democrats who volunteered for Hillary Clinton’s 2008 campaign.

The subjects were surprised on Sunday to find themselves as part of Clinton’s 2016 campaign launch. The video was kept secret until its release, so most of the participants only knew it was intended to support her candidacy.

MORE: Hillary Clinton’s Biggest Obstacle

In the minutes before Clinton’s campaign launched, participants told TIME, they got calls from Clinton staffers who warned them they were about to get a lot of attention from their friends.

“I was in the garden and someone on the campaign staff called and said, ‘Oh, by the way, you made the video, and it’ll start to get crazy in about five minutes,'” said Julie Stauch, whose tomato garden was featured and who received enthusiastic phone calls and Facebook messages from her friends.

TIME spoke to some of the people in the video.

Jared Milrad and Nate Johnson

The engaged couple preparing for the wedding this summer are Milrad, who is the director at a legal nonprofit, and Johnson, who works at a health care consulting company. The couple met in Boston a few days after the 2008 election, when Johnson supported Clinton in the primaries and Milrad volunteered for Obama. Clinton’s team shot the video of the two in Chicago, where the couple lives.

They told the video team about their wedding plans (after seeing the launch video, they invited Hillary—but no word on whether she’ll come) and their relationship. “We talked about how important it is for us to be legally recognized and married,” Johnson said. “My parents have been together for over 30 years, my grandparents for over 55 years, and for me to married and have it be legally recognized was very important for me.”

When Clinton’s team shot the video, the duo was asked to kiss as the tape was rolling. “It was a little awkward,” Milrad said. “We accidentally butted heads.”

Julie Stauch

The “legendary” neighborhood tomatoes belong to Julie Stauch, an organizational consultant in West Des Moines. Stauch, who volunteered for Clinton in 2007 and 2008, hosted Clinton’s videographers for a couple hours in March, and showed them a bedspread she was knitting and her garden. During the filming, as she stood outside her house holding her garden clippers, Julie said she got a little bit silly. “I held the clippers in the air and said ‘I have the power!'” she said, “and they didn’t use that in the final cut, thank god.”

Sean, Vidhya and Harry Bagniewski

Harry is the rambunctious lab puppy in the video, and Sean and Vidhya are his owners. “Harry was causing chaos and havoc the entire time” they were filming, Sean Bagniewski said. “It was two hours and we finally had to let him out of the kennel.”

Sean, who is an attorney, said he was a poor fifth-grader from a trailer park when he first met Bill Clinton in 1994. Since then, he’s been interested in politics, and he later joined former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack’s administration and volunteered for Hillary Clinton’s campaign in 2008. Vidhya, his wife, is the daughter of parents who immigrated from India, and is also an attorney.

One of Sean’s recent endeavors in politics ended with a loss—and then a win. “I ran for city council two years ago and lost,” he said. “They said if you want a friend in poltics, get a dog. That’s a Harry Truman quote. So we got a dog and named him Harry.”

MORE: Hillary’s Game Plan—Start Small With Voters, Go Big With Donors

TIME Gadgets

Apple Watch Pre-Orders Hit Almost 1 Million on First Day, Group Estimates

The cheaper Sport Watch was the most popular model

Almost one million people ordered an Apple Watch on the first day it was available, according to an estimate by a research firm, showing strong consumer demand for an Apple product that debuted to mixed reviews.

Slice Intelligence, citing an analysis of e-receipt data from 9,080 online shoppers, said that about 957,000 people in the U.S. pre-ordered an Apple Watch on Friday, with each buyer purchasing an average of 1.3 watches and spending an average of $503.83 on each one.

More than 60% of consumers bought the cheapest iteration of the Apple Watch, the Sport model.

Many of the initial purchasers are committed Apple fans: 72% purchased an iPhone, iPad or Apple computer over the past two years, and 21% ordered an iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 Plus in the last few months, according to Slice.

The black sport band was the most popular choice, as was the larger 42mm case.

Read next: Here’s What It Was Like Buying an Apple Watch Today

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TIME Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton Launches Second Bid for the White House

Her biggest obstacle is her own inevitability

How do you announce something that everyone already knows is coming? You take your time.

Hillary Clinton’s second campaign for President began Sunday afternoon with an understated video announcement—not the balloons, grand speeches or live-televised arena announcements that White House hopefuls traditionally employ. The presumptive Democratic nominee jumped into the 2016 race with an announcement that was as modest as the Clinton juggernaut could manage. The former Secretary of State and First Lady doesn’t appear in the first half of the video that officially launches her campaign. She won’t even hold her first campaign rally until May.

The Sunday roll-out was crafted to spotlight Clinton’s promise to run her campaign differently from eight years ago, when she entered with all the pomp of a dominant frontrunner but was defeated by the upstart Senator Barack Obama. The Obama-esque message: “it’s your time.”

“Everyday Americans need a champion. I want to be that champion,” Clinton declares.

MORE: Hillary Clinton’s Main Obstacle: Her Own Inevitability

The two-and-a-half minute video features an African-American couple expecting a baby, a young man starting a career in a fifth-generation owned factory, a young woman applying for her first job after college, a gay couple preparing to get married and two Hispanic brothers opening their first business.

“I’m running for President,” Clinton says, two-thirds of the way into the video message, which was posted on her newly redesigned website, Facebook page and Twitter account.

“Americans have fought their way back from tough economic times, but the deck is still stacked in favor of those at the top,” Clinton adds, adopting a populist theme designed to appeal both to her party’s base and to middle-class Americans. “Everyday Americans need a champion, and I want to be that champion. So you can do more than just get by, you can get ahead and stay ahead.”

Clinton enters the presidential contest with a nearly unprecedented profile. After more than two decades in the national spotlight, she is the definitive frontrunner among Democrats, and polls ahead of all likely Republican candidates in most surveys. But she remains one of the most deeply polarizing national figures, drawing almost as many detractors and supporters, and with almost 100% name identification, nearly everyone has a well-formed opinion of her for better for worse.

The kickoff message was heavy on humility, oriented more toward the voters she will court in the coming months than her own qualifications.

Clinton will soon travel to Iowa and New Hampshire to make inroads in the early primary states, where she’ll hold small events and meet caucus and primary voters who remain skeptical of a Clinton candidacy after her 2008 campaign.

MORE: Liberal Groups Respond to Hillary Clinton Campaign Launch

Instead of emphasizing her battle-readiness and experience, the video is more upbeat and casual. Her logo is a modern blue and red “H,” styled with an arrow. Even the name of her campaign committee has been adjusted to signal her new focus on voters this time around. The 2008 committee was called “Friends of Hillary,” but now it is the more inclusive “Hillary for America.”

“I’m hitting the road to earn your vote,” Clinton says, “because it’s your time and I hope you’ll join me on this journey.”

Her last campaign was doomed by perceived inevitability, a backbiting political apparatus and a wooden candidate. In an attempt to avoid a repeat of the drama-filled 2008 effort, on Saturday, Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook sent a memo to staffers that stated that the campaign’s themes included diversity, discipline and humility.

Clinton has already assembled a massive political team of hundreds working out of a Brooklyn Heights office space, drawing on both the Clinton and Obama networks.

Her announcement sets off a fundraising blitz, unleashing an army of Democratic fundraisers who have been sitting dormant and waiting for Clinton to officially declare. Clinton’s team is looking to raise well over $1.5 billion for her effort, while Republicans are planning to use her official entrance to activate their own donors.

The announcement came first in an email from campaign chairman John Podesta, who emailed Clinton campaign alumni, donors and members of Congress minutes before the video was posted.

“I wanted to make sure you heard it first from me – it’s official: Hillary’s running for president,” Podesta wrote. “She is hitting the road to Iowa to start talking directly with voters. There will be a formal kickoff event next month, and we look forward to seeing you there.”

Read next: The Clinton Way

TIME 2016 Election

Could This Man Beat Hillary Clinton in Iowa?

Martin O'Malley
Jae C. Hong—AP Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley speaks during a general session at the California Democrats State Convention, March 8, 2014, in Los Angeles.

Martin O'Malley knows what Iowans want. Will they support him?

Correction appended, April 14

On a breezy Saturday night in March at a small Tex-Mex restaurant in rural western Iowa, Martin O’Malley climbed onto a chair. The former governor of Maryland, who was in the American heartland prepping his likely presidential campaign, looked over the 80-person crowd from his rickety purview. “This is not my first visit to Iowa,” he told the gathered Democrats. “I know this very personally: How each of you, as Iowans, take your participation in the Iowa caucus.”

Iowans insist on meeting candidates— “three times,” O’Malley continued to laughs. “Being able to look them in the eyes, being able to ask them questions.” Then O’Malley walked up to the guitarist in the three-piece band in the corner, grabbed his axe, and taught the audience the chorus to Passenger’s “Scare Away the Dark.” He worked the crowd afterward, circling the room and shaking as many hands as he could. “He was one of the last ones to leave,” says Linda Nelson, the Pottawatomie County Democratic chair. “It was a good old hoe down.”

O’Malley has another song up his sleeve: he’s bringing heart to the crucial Iowa caucus. An all-but-declared candidate, O’Malley is preparing for a committed campaign in Iowa, recruiting staff, courting local activists, and touring the Hawkeye state’s cities and backwater towns. His roots in the state go back to 1983, when he spent months campaigning for presidential candidate Gary Hart. Now, he is massaging Iowa voters as the 2016 campaign gets underway, courting local progressives and firing up the base.

As Hillary Clinton prepares to officially launch her presidential campaign on Sunday, many Iowans are already frustrated with the former secretary of state. She’s been too slow to announce her candidacy, they say, and she hasn’t visited the state since October. Iowa liberals say she appears emotionally uninvolved, as she did in 2007, when her loss to Senator Barack Obama set her on the road to defeat. Iowa Democrats expect a robust primary campaign in their state. Nature abhors a vacuum, and O’Malley has swooped in.

O’Malley can be a wooden public speaker. A policy wonk former Baltimore mayor and Maryland governor, he relies more on statistics than oratorical flair. He’ll speak in paragraphs to voters and reporters before finding a pithy line. At home, his two-term legacy in Annapolis is at risk of being undone after his chosen successor lost to a Republican in the latest gubernatorial contest. He may have met plenty of Iowa farmers, suits and homebodies campaigning for Hart in 1983, but as of February, 84% of Iowans didn’t know enough about the former governor to judge him, according to a Quinnipiac poll—and that’s a year and a half after he said he was preparing a presidential run. In the coming presidential contest, Hillary Clinton has the advantage of near-universal name recognition as well as a large campaign staff.

But in a state with a highly contentious caucus and a studied ambivalence toward Clinton, a progressive troubadour like O’Malley is quickly attracting Iowa Democrats. “Hillary Clinton is not inevitable,” says George Appleby, a prominent Des Moines lawyer who has been involved in numerous Democratic campaigns in Iowa and now supports O’Malley. “There’s a history of Iowa caucuses catapulting a second person to take on the inevitable.”

Iowa has long propelled minor Democratic candidates closer to a nomination, including one that O’Malley worked for three decades ago. He first set out for Iowa as a 20-year-old campaign worker for then-Senator Gary Hart, toting a guitar and a penny whistle as he crisscrossed the counties, knocking on doors and making phone calls. O’Malley spent many weeks sleeping in living rooms and driving around in the campaign’s “Van Force 1,” scouring up votes for the Democratic upstart who nearly went on to take the nomination in 1984. Hart made a strong impression on O’Malley—the 21-year-old had his first legal beer with the Democratic candidate in 1984—and apparently the feeling was mutual. “We heard that they just loved him out there,” Hart told the Baltimore Sun in 1999. “Particularly the housewives.”

As part of O’Malley’s reunion tour with Iowa, he’s visited the state twice in the last three weeks, driving in March from a county fundraiser in Davenport in the blue, eastern part of the state to Council Bluffs out in the rural west of Iowa. This week, he will appear at three Democratic events around Des Moines. Signs point toward O’Malley working a hard operation in Iowa.

MORE: How Liberals Hope to Nudge Hillary Clinton to the Left

“Iowa is a grinder-type operation. You have to go through a lot of counties, meet a lot of people, shake a lot of hands,” says Bill Hyers, a senior adviser to O’Malley. “He loves that. He did it with Gary Hart. He loved it then and is still very nostalgic about it.”

O’Malley “has an understanding of what it takes to do this,” Hyers said. “He has been talking to these folks for years, but now he can talk in a serious way about how he can move the country forward.”

As Baltimore mayor, O’Malley implemented data-intensive metrics to track crime and quotidian municipal workings like pothole fixes and snow removal. Crime fell in the murder capital of the United States by 24% during the first five years of his mayorship, and the mayor’s office said the city had saved hundreds of millions of dollars through O’Malley’s data-tracking program. Though Maryland benefits economically from its proximity to Washington, D.C., the state went from fifth highest per capita income to first during his tenure as governor. Laws he signed toughening up gun control measures, ending the death penalty and putting gay marriage up for a successful referendum will endear him to progressives, even if they cost him some support among other voters.

In his recent Iowa events, O’Malley has pointed to his governing record. He’s advocated reinstating the Glass-Steagall Act, a rule that separated commercial and investment banking in the United States until President Bill Clinton dissolved it. He talks about raising the minimum wage, reining in Wall Street and pushing immigration reform. O’Malley is presenting himself as the deep-blue Democrat that can proudly carry a progressive message, and so far, Iowans are buying it.

“Martin O’Malley is a very progressive potential candidate,” says Larry Hodgden, chair of the Cedar County Democrats. “I think he can carry the progressive message. And we’ve got to have somebody whose going to fight for the people.”

Though Clinton polls leagues ahead of O’Malley and has a deep network of wealthy donors eager for her to run, Iowa will be a particular challenge for her campaign. In 2007, she struck voters as indifferent, and didn’t effectively engage in the kind of living room-and-diner politics that the first-in-the-nation voters expect. She placed third in the state behind then-Sen. Barack Obama and the more progressive Sen. John Edwards.

Clinton aides have said 2015 will be different. She plans to visit Iowa this week after her Sunday campaign launch, and advisors have said Clinton will stick to small events and treat the state seriously. If Clinton campaigns earnestly in Iowa this year as expected, she will no doubt outperform her 2008 disaster. But even so, there is room for O’Malley to shine if he can consolidate the progressive base that has never warmed to Clinton.

“The beauty of Iowa is that you could be absolutely a no one with no money, and you don’t need it. If you’re in small settings and you have a message, people will listen to it,” says Democratic strategist Joe Trippi. “O’Malley is focused on the right place.”

MORE: Iowa Activists Are More Than ‘Ready for Hillary’

Last year, O’Malley spent time campaigning and fundraising for Democrats in Iowa City, Des Moines and Cedar Rapids, as well as many of the smaller towns like Sioux City, Ottumwa and Beaverdale. He visited diners, a Baptist church, and other Democratic watering holes. The Iowa beneficiaries of his 2014 tour can be turned into O’Malley benefactors in 2015, when he begins campaigning for his probable bid.

O’Malley will likely campaign in Iowa at Clinton’s ideological left and aim to attract the committed progressives in the state who once supported Obama and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards. Iowa has a devoted cadre of Sen. Elizabeth Warren enthusiasts who are looking for a liberal candidate. Volunteers for the Run Warren Run PAC are ramping up social media efforts. With Warren insistent she will not enter the race, they represent a coveted cadre voters who will flock toward a progressive.

“If you have a two-person contest for an open seat, the person who isn’t as well known has a number of advantages,” says Anita Dunn, a Democratic strategist who worked for Obama. “That candidate can be a repository of anyone who doesn’t want to immediately step behind the frontrunner.”

O’Malley has promised a final decision by the end of the spring. He runs the risk of waiting too late to enter the race: going from near-anonymity in Iowa to populist upstart in a few months is a steep hill to climb. But if there’s any place for O’Malley to launch toward the national stage, it’s in the Hawkeye State.

“The fact that O’Malley starts out with low name recognition doesn’t mean that anyone should underestimate him,” says Dunn. “The reason Iowa and New Hampshire go first is for candidates like O’Malley.”

In a packed Irish pub in Des Moines on Thursday night, O’Malley entertained the audience with another rendition of “Scare Away the Dark.” The song’s lyrics hinted at the coming campaign. “Feel, feel like you still have a choice,” he sang. “If we all light up we can scare away the dark.”

The next day, O’Malley was off to a local Democrats’ dinner. Speaking to reporters, O’Malley recounted lessons learned from the 1984 race, when Gary Hart came from behind in Iowa and walked onto the national stage. “History is full of examples where the inevitable front-runner was inevitable right up until she was—or he was—no longer inevitable,” he said. “And the challenger emerges very often right here in Iowa.”

— Additional reporting by Zeke Miller / Des Moines, Iowa.

Read next: Martin O’Malley Courts Elizabeth Warren Supporters in New Hampshire

Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly described Beaverdale. It is a neighborhood in Des Moines, Iowa.

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