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Hillary Clinton, then U.S. secretary of state, prepares to testify before the Senate Commission on Foreign Relations in January, 2013, about the deadly 2012 attack on the America consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Her campaign has formally launched her long-expected run to become 45th president and the first woman to sit in the Oval Office.Christopher Gregory/The New York Times

Hillary Clinton starts her second run for the presidency of the United States with the kind of profile any candidate would kill for.

She has been a well-known if often polarizing figure since her husband Bill Clinton first ran for president in 1992. She was an active first lady for eight years, a heavyweight New York senator for another eight and a globe-trotting secretary of state for four. After a quarter century on the national stage, she has a familiar face and a famous name. That is a huge advantage.

It is also a big problem. How do you make a shopworn commodity like Ms. Clinton shine in the bright plate-glass window of a second presidential campaign? How do you give her bid a sense of inevitability without conveying a sense of entitlement?

These are the challenges her campaign faced as it formally launched her long-expected run to become 45th president and the first woman to sit in the Oval Office.

In her kick-off video released on Sunday, she said she was "hitting the road to earn your vote." In a country where "the deck is still stacked in favour of those at the top," she went on, "everyday Americans need a champion and I want to be that champion."

The calculated message was that, despite her overwhelming advantage in her party's race, she was not taking voters for granted; that, despite her wealth and fame, she cares about the struggles of ordinary people; that this campaign is about the voters, not the celebrity candidate.

Among those featured in the video were two gay couples and an interracial couple, a middle-aged woman bracing for retirement, a mother moving house to get her kindergarten-aged daughter into a better school and a pair of Hispanic brothers starting their own business. Ms. Clinton herself appears only toward the end of the two-minute production, telling viewers that "it's your time."

She begins her run for the White House in what would appear to be a dominant position. She has the Democratic Party establishment in her corner. She has no serious rival for the party's presidential nomination. The Los Angeles Times calls her "the most commanding front-runner in generations."

And yet her backers can't forget that she was an overwhelming favourite when she began running for the nomination last time. It all started falling apart here in Iowa, where the key early party votes can make or break a candidate. In January, 2008, she came in a surprising third behind Senator Barack Obama of Illinois and former Senator John Edwards of North Carolina.

To prevent a similar crumble this time, she is trying hard to escape what The New Yorker magazine called "the inevitability trap" – the impression that she intends to swan into the White House as of right.

Democrats say her tactics will be different this time around. Her big-spending, heavily staffed 2008 primary campaign featured an aircraft nicknamed the Hill-a-Copter that whisked her around to rallies. When she comes to Iowa on Tuesday and Wednesday for her first foray as an official candidate, she is to focus on the smaller gatherings that are feature of state politics.

"It will be a more intimate campaign. More dialogue, more grassroots," says State Senator Janet Petersen, a Democrat from Des Moines.

Those who have watched her career say that, while Ms. Clinton can be a stilted speaker in front of large gatherings, she is warm and funny in person – qualities her handlers hope to showcase.

"She needs to eliminate the large organizational trappings and really play the Iowa game, and that's retail politics and getting out to meet people one on one – and she does a good job with that," says Dianne Bystrom, who teaches on women and politics at Iowa State University.

With her stints as senator and chief diplomat under her belt, Ms. Clinton no longer has to prove she is more than just the unusually accomplished wife of a former president, Prof. Bystrom says. That leaves her free to stress a more personal side.

Expect her to talk about her new role as a grandmother to Charlotte, born to her daughter Chelsea last September.

Ms. Clinton enthuses about that experience in a new epilogue to Hard Choices, her most recent book, and draws a lesson about inequality. "You shouldn't have to be the granddaughter of a president or a secretary of state to receive excellent health care, education, enrichment," she writes.

Expect her to talk about her less-than-exalted origins, too. On her campaign website, she stresses that she is the daughter of a father who ran a small drapery business and a mother who was abandoned by her parents as a young child. She grew up in a middle-class household in the Chicago suburb of Park Ridge before going to Yale Law School, marrying Bill Clinton and moving into the Arkansas governor's mansion.

It is all part of a deliberate attempt to learn from the disappointment of 2008 and reintroduce Ms. Clinton to the public – the Hillary that Americans don't know.

Will it work?

Though she has a huge early lead and plans for a campaign war chest that reports say could reach more than $2-billion (U.S.), Ms. Clinton is hardly a shoo-in. Only once since the Second World War has a party occupied the White House for three straight terms, as the Democrats would if Ms. Clinton followed Mr. Obama.

The crowded field of Republican presidential hopefuls is already casting her as a smug Washington insider who would only continue Mr. Obama's "failed" policies on health care and foreign affairs.

Even the Democratic nomination is not a sure thing. Her potential competition is underwhelming. So far it consists of lesser figures such as former Maryland governor Martin O'Malley, former senator Jim Webb of Virginia and independent Senator Bernard Sanders of Vermont, who might compete as a Democrat.

But voters in primaries tend to like a race and be on the lookout for fresh faces. Ms. Clinton is 67 and would be 69 when she took office, the second-oldest president to move into the White House (Ronald Reagan was older, but only by eight months).

Critics complain that in spite of all her years in Washington, Ms. Clinton is hard to know. "What does Hillary stand for?" demands The Economist magazine on the cover of its latest issue, calling her beliefs "strangely hard to pin down."

Even Democrats wonder what she is really about. "It's not enough to be a well-known candidate. We have to know what she is going to fight for," says Joe Henry, 58, a left-leaning party activist who heads a local Latino organization.

Another Democratic stalwart, government worker Rose Mary Pratt, 67, says that, despite all Ms. Clinton's accomplishments, she has yet to find a way to connect with voters.

Over coffee at a brunch spot in the Des Moines neighbourhood of Beaverdale, Ms. Pratt remembers a moonlit night when an outside-chance candidate called Barack Obama spoke at an Iowa rally about his hopes for the country. "I cried that night," she says.

As for Ms. Clinton, Ms. Pratt says: "Yes, I've applauded Hillary. But I don't know if she's ever moved me to tears."

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