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U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton waves to the crowd after delivering her "official launch speech" at a campaign kick off rally in Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park on Roosevelt Island in New York City, June 13, 2015.


As Hillary Clinton solidifies her position as the Democrats' candidate for president, she is once again haunted by her past. Her favourability ratings have dropped amid questionable donations to her family's charity and some of her supporters worry she won't be able to generate the excitement needed to galvanize voters.

"It feels like a campaign that is disconnected with voters and activists," said one major Democratic fundraiser, David Garrison, a Tennessee lawyer.

Mrs. Clinton, a former senator and secretary of state, held her first rally in New York on Saturday, addressing a large crowd for the first time since she launched her campaign in April.

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Her Democratic rivals, former Maryland governor Martin O'Malley, independent senator Bernie Sanders and former Republican and Rhode Island governor Lincoln Chafee, are far behind her in the polls.

Eight years ago, she was also the front-runner to become the Democrats' presidential candidate before she crashed spectacularly and lost to the less experienced Barack Obama, now President of the United States.

She has softened her image, veered far to the left and has been talking to voters in states where she lost to Mr. Obama.

Every moment of Mrs. Clinton's second presidential run, so far, has been tightly controlled. She has only held one news conference since announcing her bid in a Web video and has held choreographed chats with voters in battleground states. Supporters are afraid of speaking out of line. One long-time Democratic donor declined an interview for this article without approval from her campaign.

"She would lose if this were the entire campaign," said Larry Sabato, director of University of Virginia's centre for politics. "You cannot isolate yourself from the press and even more important, you cannot isolate yourself from real voters who have not been vetted and handpicked."

Mrs. Clinton's campaign manager is 35-year-old Robert Mook, a Clinton loyalist who helped get an unpopular Democrat elected as governor in Virginia by studying the electorate and cultivating younger voters through social media.

Mr. Mook is described as disciplined, frugal and low key – traits that are seen throughout the campaign machine right down to its headquarters. The main campaign office is housed in a nondescript building in downtown Brooklyn.

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There are no signs of Ms. Clinton's campaign in the pink marble lobby. Scaffolding obscures most of the street.

While the campaign is not drawing attention to itself, Mrs. Clinton has drawn unwanted attention to her family's charitable Clinton Foundation.

Because of Mr. Clinton's sway and Mrs. Clinton's role as secretary of state and potentially the next U.S. president, the foundation has become a glaring conflict of interest for Mrs. Clinton.

It accepted donations from governments that Mrs. Clinton dealt with when she served as the U.S.'s top diplomat. It also accepted funds from businesses that could benefit from the Clintons' enormous influence around the world.

The charity aside, one of Mrs. Clinton's most formidable challenges will be how to relate to middle-class voters.

Her enormous personal wealth – the Clintons made nearly $30-million giving speeches over the past year – overshadows her modest beginnings and jars with her message that she will champion average Americans.

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What Mrs. Clinton has done is embrace top liberal causes, like providing a path to U.S. citizenship for the approximately 11 million immigrants who entered the country illegally. The majority of undocumented immigrants are Hispanic, a population that is growing in size and clout.

She has been silent on the important issues for a key Democratic constituency, organized labour, such as raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour and rejecting a massive free trade agreement called the Trans Pacific Partnership.

She has also been silent on Wall Street reforms and the future of the Alberta-to-Texas Keystone pipeline, whose approval has been in limbo under Mr. Obama's watch.

Appealing to Wall Street without angering the liberal wing of her party – many of whom have thrown their support behind Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren – is the most delicate, if not impossible, balance Mrs. Clinton must strike. Although Mrs. Warren is not running for president, she has inspired a loyal following, calling for the breakup of the big banks and holding bankers accountable.

Many on Wall Street detest Mrs. Warren and dislike Mr. Obama because of his sweeping financial regulation bill and attacks on the wealthy.

Whether Mrs. Clinton can maintain Obama's level of support among women or galvanize more to support her is a key question.

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On Saturday, she will reach out to women and the working class by talking about her mother's humble roots. In her first run, she attempted to show she was equal with men. Now, Mrs. Clinton is playing up her gender, mentioning her new role as a grandmother and tweeting about women's issues.

Her rally on Saturday will be on Roosevelt Island, an homage to former Democratic president Franklin Roosevelt and his wife, Eleanor, who led the country through the Great Depression. Ironically, the tiny island, which sits next to Manhattan, is unknown to most Americans, unvisited and home to a former asylum.

Allan Berliant, one of Mr. Obama's major fundraisers in Ohio, describes Mrs. Clinton as "incredibly personable" and easy to connect with.

"You feel like you're the only person in the room. I wish she could translate that warmth to the stage."

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