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First Read: The Risks and Rewards of Hillary Clinton’s ‘Go Small’ Strategy

Image: File photo of former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaking during a news conference at the United Nations in New York

Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks during a news conference at the United Nations in New York in this March 10, 2015 file photo. Hillary Clinton is expected to announce her campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016 as early as this weekend, facing no substantial competition but needing to get her organization in place for the long battle to come. A variety of sources in the Clinton orbit said they were anticipating an imminent announcement but would not confirm a report in the New York Daily News that the announcement was expected on Sunday. REUTERS/Mike Segar/Files MIKE SEGAR / Reuters

First Read is a morning briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter

The risks and rewards of Clinton’s early “go small” strategy

Well, the longest tease in American politics is officially over. As NBC’s Kristen Welker and Andrea Mitchell report, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will announce her presidential candidacy as soon as Sunday, according to two sources close to the Clinton campaign. Welker and Mitchell add that Clinton is expected to make this announcement on social media, and she’ll make campaign stops next week in places like Iowa. Here’s the other important point to make: The early events likely will be small -- reminiscent of that “Listening Tour” as she began to run for that New York Senate seat in 2000. In other words, she is going to be going door-to-door, meeting with voters in Iowa, New Hampshire, etc. one-on-one. “The go-slow, go-small strategy, [Clinton’s] advisers say, plays to her strengths, allowing her to meet voters in intimate settings where her humor, humility and policy expertise can show through,” the Washington Post wrote yesterday. The lesson learned from 2008: Clinton isn’t as comfortable going big -- a la Barack Obama or even her husband. But there is a risk to this go-small strategy. It lacks a message.

Answering the process question but not the message question

Indeed, Clinton’s early rollout is answering the process question (how the announcement will go down, etc.), but it isn’t answering the message question (what her campaign will be about). Now it’s likely we will see a here’s-why-I’m-running-for-president speech from Clinton next month; the April “Listening Tour” showers will bring May’s bigger flowers. But given how a month seems like an eternity in our new media landscape, Clinton’s challenge will be running without answering that message question.

Not taking anything for granted

There’s a final takeaway from everything we now know: Hillary wants to send the message that she’s taking NOTHING for granted. Of course, this is maybe the central message she learned from 2008 -- especially as her campaign paid just lip service to caucus contests, which counted just as much in delegates as the primary contests did. But then again, there is always the danger of trying to fight what was the last battle. Do you over-correct past mistakes? Do memories of the past concern you more than the present?

Hillary by the numbers

With all of the Hillary news, here is a look at Hillary by the numbers through all of our polling:

  • Her fav/unfav in the March NBC/WSJ poll is 44%-36% (among Democrats, it’s 77%-7%);
  • 86% of Democratic voters said they could see themselves supporting her, versus 13% who couldn’t, per the March NBC/WSJ poll;
  • 38% of Democratic voters want to see a challenge to Hillary, compared with 61% who don’t see it as a concern;
  • 51% of all voters believe she represents the policies of the past, versus 44% who think she’ll provide new ideas for the future (Jeb Bush’s score on this question was 60% past/27% future);
  • And our February NBC/Marist poll showed Clinton leading Vice President Joe Biden in Iowa, 68%-12%, and in New Hampshire, 69%-13%.

All of Clinton’s numbers among Democrats are MUCH stronger than they were at this point in 2007. That Democratic Party DID have some Clinton fatigue. While the professional progressive community and many in the media have Clinton fatigue this time around, the evidence isn’t there that this “fatigue” has trickled down to the actual rank-and-file Democratic voters.

O’Malley repeats his “I think the presidency is not a crown to be passed back and forth between two families”

As far as another potential Democrat who might challenge Clinton, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley spoke with MSNBC’s Ari Melber yesterday. Said O’Malley, repeating what he said a couple of weeks ago: “I think the presidency is not a crown to be passed back and forth between two families. It is a sacred trust to be earned and exercised on behalf of the people of our country. It's supposed to be a contest of ideas and-- and opportunity for-- for candidates to earn this awesome trust from the people-- whose government it-- it actually is.”

Republican 2016ers gather in Nashville at the NRA’s annual convention

On the Republican side, most of the potential GOP 2016ers will speak in Nashville, TN at the NRA’s annual convention. The speakers (in order): Bobby Jindal at 2:25 pm ET, Scott Walker at 2:40 pm ET, Rick Perry at 3:20 pm ET, Jeb Bush at 3:40 pm ET, Ben Carson at 3:50 pm ET, Marco Rubio at 4:05 pm ET, Mike Huckabee at 4:30 pm ET, Lindsey Graham at 4:45 pm ET, and Ted Cruz at 4:55 pm ET.

Why Rand Paul is in Iowa -- and not in Nashville

There is one person who WON’T be at the NRA confab -- Rand Paul, who campaigns in Iowa after announcing his presidential bid on Tuesday. But there’s another reason for his absence. “The National Rifle Association says the only reason Sen. Rand Paul didn’t get an invitation to its annual convention in Nashville this weekend was its inability to accommodate all the 2016 GOP presidential hopefuls,” Politico writes. “But Republican insiders know that Paul is persona non grata with the country’s largest Second Amendment advocacy group because of his affiliation with another, more militant gun rights organization, its brash executive director, and his vast direct-mail network focused on hard-core conservative issues.”

Hillary steps on Rubio’s rollout

Our final point this morning: Hillary Clinton’s announcement -- going on social media on Sunday, with campaign stops later in the week -- is going to step on Marco Rubio’s announcement in Florida, intentionally or not. Rubio’s a bit snake-bitten on this front. Don’t forget: Clint Eastwood’s dialogue with a chair overshadowed Rubio’s well-received 2012 convention speech. And there was that whole water episode in his State of the Union rebuttal to Obama.

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