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Clinton makes a statement with first tweet

Philip Rucker

Her fans signed up for her Twitter feed fast, almost 1,000 of them a minute, to see what she had to say. And Hillary Clinton, debuting on the social-media site Monday with a biography identifying her as a "hair icon, pantsuit aficionado, glass ceiling cracker," kept them guessing.

The end of her bio read: "TBD . . . "

To be determined.

Perhaps no figure in American political life has surfaced on Twitter quite the way Clinton did. But none share her position in the public arena right now as a potential president-in-waiting. Everything the former secretary of state does now is met with anticipation and parsed for clues that might answer the question: Will she or won't she run?

"She's news incarnate," gushed Paul Begala, a former adviser to Bill Clinton.

This seems to be how the next year or so will go for Hillary -- she's known worldwide as just Hillary -- as she carves out a new public role and begins to contemplate campaigning for president in 2016.

Clinton's emergence on social media comes a few days before she is set to deliver a major public address at the Clinton Global Initiative in Chicago, offering her thoughts on domestic policies for the first time since her unsuccessful White House bid in 2008.

Clinton has been busy writing a book and setting up an office at the recently renamed Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation, where she is developing a philanthropic agenda of her own.

Her debut also coincided with a new Gallup survey finding that her favorability had dropped to 58 percent, her lowest level in the pollsters' ratings since 2009. The decline was driven largely by a shift in support among independent voters.

One factor could be the recent Republican-led attacks on her handling of last September's terrorist attacks in Benghazi, Libya -- an issue likely to dog her should she run for president.

With her emergence on Twitter, Clinton tried to stake out turf above all that. She is defining herself not as a staid politician but instead as a witty, self-effacing and almost hip netizen. That's saying something for a 65-year-old who came of age when Beatles and Elvis records (the vinyl kind) were all the rage.

Clinton's avatar is a black-and-white photograph of steely, globe-trotting Hillary on a military plane wearing dark sunglasses and reading her BlackBerry. The picture was popularized on a Tumblr site in which users imagined "Texts From Hillary."

Her bio reads: "Wife, mom, lawyer, women & kids advocate, FLOAR, FLOTUS, US Senator, SecState, author, dog owner, hair icon, pantsuit aficionado, glass ceiling cracker, TBD . . . "

"I think it's hilarious," said Mo Elleithee, who was a spokesman on Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign.

"Twitter is not a dry medium; it is not a place to be boring," Elleithee added. "The fact that she embraced the whole 'Texts From Hillary' phenomenon, the fact that she pokes fun at those who poke fun at her in her bio, it shows that she gets this modern era of communications and is going to use that to help say whatever it is that she wants to say."

In her first tweet, Clinton mentioned the two men who created the "Texts From Hillary" meme -- Adam Smith and Tracy Lambe -- and even used a hashtag, which is Twitter-speak for a trendy topic.

She tweeted: "Thanks for the inspiration ASmith83 & Sllambe -- I'll take it from here . . . .tweetsfromhillary."

Clinton got help orchestrating her Twitter arrival from two young former aides, Katie Dowd, a former social-media adviser at the State Department who now works at the White House, and Katie Stanton, a veteran of the Obama campaign's digital team who later worked for Clinton at State and now is at Twitter.

Twitter will afford Clinton, as it does President Barack Obama, an opportunity to shape the news and communicate directly with voters. Kevin Madden, a Republican strategist and former adviser to 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney, recalled that the White House influenced the news for several days in February simply by tweeting a photograph of Obama shooting skeet at Camp David.

"Political figures that use Twitter the best position themselves as managing editors of their own political news cycle," Madden said. "They chose the headline, the image and the lede of their own news story, and the White House has been Exhibit A for that."

Whether Clinton decides to run for president again or not, she has already gained attention on a powerful new media platform. Just five hours after firing off her first tweet, she had more than 200,000 followers -- well over the totals of Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (40,000) and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (85,000), two younger-generation Democrats who have been on Twitter for years and are eyeing presidential runs of their own.

"There's a great hunger of people to know not only what she thinks about policy, but her opinion on everything related to pop culture," Madden said. "That's where the power of social media lies for her -- and it gives her a sizeable advantage over many of her opponents."

Clinton got a warm reception from the Twitterverse. Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey welcomed her, tweeting to his 2.3 million followers, "I love this bio!"

So did rocker Tommy Lee ("Welcome to Tweeeeeeeeter Hillary!"), talk show host Larry King ("I'll be following you -- hope you follow me"), actor Ben Affleck ("I'm looking forward to following HillaryClinton and the .TBD"), and billionaire investor Warren Buffett ("Happy to welcome one of my favorite women in the world to twitter. .45").

So far, Clinton is only following five accounts -- those of her husband and daughter, as well as the Clinton Foundation, the Clinton Global Initiative and the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service. Chelsea Clinton tweeted, "Welcome Mom!"

The 42nd president, meanwhile -- who joined Twitter in April after public prodding by comedian Stephen Colbert -- sent a message of his own: "Does Twitter have a family share plan?"


By Philip Rucker
The Washington Post