A Chicago native and Wellesley alum, attorney Hillary Diane Rodham left a Washington career to follow her boyfriend William Jefferson Clinton to Arkansas, where they eventually married. After Bill became governor, Hillary worked for stricter standards in Arkansas’ public schools, and when he was elected President in 1992, she became the most politically involved First Lady since Eleanor Roosevelt. Although her most prominent effort—a pre-Obamacare attempt at universal health care—failed, she worked on several successful initiatives including the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Clinton was also dragged into her husband’s ethical controversies: she was accused of hiding records to obstruct an investigation into her and Bill’s financial and legal dealings with an Arkansas couple later convicted for fraud.
While Bill’s presidency waned, Hillary began her own political career by winning the 2000 New York Senate election. She sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008 and became the first woman ever to win a major party delegate-selection primary, eventually losing to then-Senator Barack Obama. As Obama’s Secretary of State, she presided over sanctions against Iran, a rebalancing of resources and attention to the Asia-Pacific region, and a new focus on international LGBT rights while pushing unsuccessfully for a more robust US role in Syria.
Her tenure’s greatest controversy arose when the 2011 civil war in Libya threatened a humanitarian crisis. Clinton supported US participation in the international no-fly zone that allowed the overthrow and murder of Libya’s leader, Muammar Gaddafi, but instability followed, with a 2012 terrorist attack on the US consulate in Benghazi killing Ambassador Christopher Stephens. Afterwards, a Congressional investigation found that Clinton used a private email server as Secretary, raising concerns that she compromised classified material (the FBI investigated her use of the server but did not recommend criminal charges).
Retiring after four years, Clinton began her second presidential candidacy in April 2015. Women and young people remain a signature issue—she calls for equal pay, guaranteed paid family leave, and universal early childhood education—and her higher education plan seeks college affordability through grants to incentivize debt-free public school tuition and loan refinancing with repayment capped at twenty years and 10% of income. She also advocates resources for campus sexual assault survivors and prevention programs and fairer and more transparent campus disciplinary proceedings. Other prominent issues include voting rights (where Clinton has called for automatic universal registration), gun control (strengthening background checks), criminal justice reform (with an emphasis on reducing mass incarceration and improving policing), and campaign finance reform (her Supreme Court nominees must oppose the Citizens United decision that allowed unlimited independent political expenditures by corporations and unions).
Clinton clinched the Democratic nomination in early June, turning aside a strong challenge from independent Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders over her progressive credentials on issues such as trade, financial reform, and foreign policy and becoming the first woman to be nominated for president by a major political party. Facing real estate mogul Donald Trump, she has focused on challenging Trump’s temperament, ability to lead, and appeal to white nationalists, while Trump has questioned her character, alleging that Clinton’s State Department displayed favor in return for donations to her family’s charitable foundation. Nevertheless, Clinton has retained a significant national lead since late July.