Hillary Clinton’s 5-decade path to the Democratic nomination

Hillary Clinton hugs President Barack Obama at 2016 DNC in Philadelphia. (Photo: Hillary Clinton Twitter)

PHILADELPHIA (MEDIA GENERAL) — Hillary Clinton’s long and winding path to the Democratic presidential nomination didn’t begin last year. Or in 2008. Or even 1992.

In many ways, Clinton has been working toward this week’s crowning moment for the past five decades.

Growing up

Clinton was raised outside Chicago in a home dominated by Hugh Rodham, a stoic father she’s described as a “rock-ribbed Republican.”

During her first two decades, Hillary canvassed door-to-door for Richard Nixon in 1960, was a Goldwater Girl supporting the 1964 GOP nominee Barry Goldwater, and led Wellesley College’s Young Republicans chapter for a short period.

But by the time she earned a political science degree in 1969, the young activist’s civic interests intensified as her ideology shifted.

Barely into her twenties, Hillary Rodham was selected to be Wellesley’s first-ever student commencement speaker — and, boy, did she seize the moment.

Rodham stepped to the microphone and spoke out against the Vietnam war, publicly blasting Sen. Edward W. Brooke, R-Mass., the man who had delivered the keynote speech just moments before her address.

That act of defiance got written up across the country, including in Life, and created a buzz around Hillary Rodham long before most Americans would learn the name of her eventual husband.

Rodham moved on to Yale Law School, the country’s most selective legal training ground. There, Hillary met the man she would marry, a congenial southerner oozing with charm and long on aspirations.

The first words the Arkansas native uttered to his eventual wife were about the place she’d one day follow him to live: “We have the biggest watermelons.”

Little Rock life

Finally married and settled into her domestic Little Rock life, Rodham charted a path all her own during the 1970s, which included the titles of law school professor, litigator and child rights activist, as Clinton ran for public office and gained national notoriety.

Behind the scenes, the governor’s wife quietly built her own profile as a constant presence and trusted advisor to Clinton’s campaigns.

Whether it involved Rodham’s help in tamping down public teachers unions or extinguishing whispers of extramarital affairs, Clinton’s wagon was hitched to his wife’s star every bit as hers was to his.

In public, the First Lady of Arkansas became a foremost crusader on the issues of child health and welfare.

When it came time to solidify agendas in 1992, Hillary Rodham Clinton (with a newly expanded last name to defuse public disapproval) was prepared; she already maintained a thick portfolio of pet issues and a laundry list of professional accomplishments.

White House years

Hillary Clinton’s broader ambitions shined through once installed at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue — albeit too brightly for many Americans’ tastes — when she became the first-ever first lady to establish an office in the West Wing rather than the customary East Wing.

She spearheaded the Clinton administration’s health care overhaul efforts, dubbed “Hillarycare,” often in secret meetings that became the subject of transparency lawsuits. Political foes stymied Hillarycare and, by all reports, she took it hard.

Throughout the rest of the Clinton administration, the first lady intentionally crafted a warmer image of devoted wife and doting mother. She helped pen a parenting-community building bestseller titled It Takes a Village in the run-up to the 1996 election cycle.

Hillary Clinton traveled during much of her husband’s second term, often taking along daughter Chelsea, eager to serve as the United States’ advocate and ambassador in far flung locales.

Once 1999 rolled around, the Monica Lewinsky scandal was in the first couple’s rearview mirror and it became clear that Hillary Clinton had a mind to develop a second career all her own.

Elective office

New York’s junior seat in the U.S. Senate opened up and Clinton threw her hat in the ring. She launched a “listening tour” and did her best to build support in a powerful, diverse state she had otherwise never called home.

On November 7, 2000, Clinton easily won her race with 55 percent of the vote.

In the notoriously stodgy Senate, Clinton kept an exceptionally low public profile, worked diligently, and buttered up fellow lawmakers by learning how they take their coffee and once challenging Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., to a vodka drinking contest.

Clinton became well-liked in the upper chamber and public opinion polls followed suit, routinely putting her favorables in the mid-50s to low 60s.

In 2006, Clinton easily won re-election to the Senate with 67 percent of New York’s vote.

Then, the junior senator’s sights moved a few miles down the road, from the Capitol to the White House.

Presidential ambitions

Once the 2008 presidential campaign kicked off in 2007, Clinton’s long-suspected ambitions of occupying the Oval Office were declared. And the rest is history.

She fought then-Sen. Barack Obama tooth and nail for every last delegate in every single state, but ultimately lost out to the fresh-faced, full-of-hope Illinois export.

Clinton, by this time well-practiced at taking her lumps, not only endorsed Obama but served as his globetrotting secretary of state for four years.

President Obama repaid Clinton’s loyalty by wholeheartedly by declaring in 2016, “I don’t think there’s ever been someone so qualified to hold this office.”

Thursday evening, she’ll claim the title of Democratic presidential nominee.

Clinton is rarely emotional in public. She isn’t overly funny or fuzzy. Rivers of tears won’t breach her dam of emotional sobriety.

But Thursday night’s nomination has been at the heart of Hillary’s ambitions for decades — long unspoken, now unbound — and will surely satisfy a deep-seated desire that only five decades of hard work could bring to pass.

Follow Chance Seales on Twitter: @ChanceSeales

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