Democratic Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton will embark on a widely anticipated campaign for the White House Saturday -- a former first lady intent on becoming the nation's first female president.
Clinton was expected to disclose plans to form a presidential exploratory committee on her Web site, according to Democratic officials familiar with the matter.
Clinton's planned announcement, coming days after Sen. Barack Obama shook up the 2008 race with his bid to become the first black to occupy the White House, establishes the most diverse political field. Clinton is considered the front-runner, with Obama and 2004 vice presidential nominee John Edwards top contenders. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who would be the first Hispanic, intends to announce his plans on Sunday.
With millions in the bank, a vast network of supporters and top status in nearly every poll of Democratic contenders, Clinton has launched the most viable effort by a female candidate to capture the White House. She is the first presidential spouse to pursue the office; her husband, Bill, served two terms in the White House from 1993-2001.
The announcement was the latest step in a remarkable political and personal journey for the 59-year-old Clinton -- from Arkansas attorney to first lady to New York senator to front-runner for the Democratic nomination.
A polarizing figure since she burst on the national scene during her husband's first presidential campaign, Clinton engenders strong opinions among voters, who either revere or revile her but rarely are ambivalent.
She often is compared to her husband and found lacking in his natural charisma. Others have criticized her for being overly cautious and calculating when so many voters say they crave authenticity.
Many Democrats, eager to reclaim the White House after eight years of President Bush, fret that she carries too much baggage from her husband's scandal-plagued presidency to win a general election. Among many voters, she is best known for her disastrous attempt in 1993 to overhaul the nation's health care system and for standing by her husband after his marital infidelity.
Clinton's allies counter by citing her strengths -- intelligence, depth of experience, work ethic and immense command of policy detail. Advisers argue those skills, plus her popularity among women and younger voters, position her strongly as both a primary and general election candidate.
In her first run for the Senate from New York in 2000 -- a state where she had never lived and where she was branded a carpetbagger by many -- Clinton won a landslide victory. Through dogged campaigning -- including a "listening tour" of the state's 62 counties -- Clinton was able to convince voters even in the conservative upstate region that she would represent them effectively in Washington.
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