Even before President Barack Obama took the oath of office to begin his second term, much of the political world was already jumping ahead. And for legions of South Florida voters, there's only one person they'd like to see raise her right hand four years from now to become the nation's 45th president: Hillary Rodham Clinton.
"If she runs, she has my vote," said Myra Lieberman, 57, of Weston, a kindergarten teacher. "All my contemporaries are also supporters of her."
Lee Grossman, who lives west of Boynton Beach, also counts herself a Clinton backer.
"We love her," Grossman said. "She's brilliant. I think she's got a good heart. I think she's extremely hard working. I'd like to see her, hopefully, run for president." Grossman, who sells ski tour packages, said she'd vote for Clinton "in a heartbeat, against anyone."
Lieberman and Grossman have plenty of company.
A new Public Policy Polling survey of Florida voters released last week shows Clinton, 65, is the overwhelming favorite of the state's Democrats for 2016. And the poll showed she'd edge out either U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., or former Gov. Jeb Bush in a contest for the Sunshine State's 29 electoral votes.
As she wraps up four years as Obama's secretary of state, the unsuccessful candidate for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, former U.S. senator from New York and former first lady is viewed favorably by 52 percent of Florida voters. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.
Among Florida Democrats, 65 percent support Clinton for the 2016 presidential nomination. Vice President Joe Biden runs a distant second place with 15 percent and seven other potential candidates trail in the low single digits.
In Broward and Palm Beach counties, Clinton is "wildly popular," said Florida International University political scientist Kathryn DePalo. There's no one else local Democrats are talking about, she said.
"South Florida's definitely Hillary Clinton country," said Robert Watson, a political scientist at Lynn University in Boca Raton and co-editor of the 2003 book "Anticipating Madam President" that explores what it will take for a woman to win the nation's top office.
Looking toward 2016, Clinton's fans, some foes and many independent analysts see her as unstoppable en route to the White House — if she decides to run.
"People adore her," said Dorothy W. Glauser of Boynton Beach. Personally, though, Glauser said she'd be "disgusted" by a Clinton victory. "I don't like her. I think she lies," she said.
Jack Shifrel of Coconut Creek, a Democratic Party activist who was a delegate pledged to then-President Bill Clinton at the 1996 Democratic National Convention and a Hillary Clinton delegate to the 2008 convention, thinks it all depends on whether the outgoing secretary of state decides to run. "The only thing that could stop Hillary is Hillary," he said.
Yet Clintonites also saw her as a sure thing in 2008 — until her campaign ran smack into Obama's superior organization and energetic Obama supporters like Cynthia Busch, who last month was elected vice chairwoman of the Broward Democratic Party.
If Clinton had done as well then as the political insiders assumed, "then Barack Obama wouldn't be president right now," Busch said.
"Who's to say there isn't somebody else who is going to do something like what Barack Obama did and galvanize people. I would find it hard to believe that it would happen twice, but you never know," she said. "I'm sure she would do very well in South Florida, but four years is a long time from now, and a lot can happen."
DePalo said Clinton is popular among demographic groups critical to winning the Democratic nomination and the presidency. She said black and Jewish voters would be behind her "100 percent." Public Policy Polling found she has strong appeal among moderates.
Al DiMaio of Fort Lauderdale, a retired political scientist from Long Island University's Brooklyn campus who's now involved in Democratic politics, said she has extraordinary support among women in their upper 50s and older.
Clinton has said she has plans to take a long break after four years touring the globe as America's chief diplomat. She had a health scare in December after she fell at her Washington, D.C. home, sustained a concussion and was diagnosed with a blood clot in her head, for which she's being treated. And Republicans continue to demand she explain the circumstances surrounding the attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, in which four Americans including the ambassador were killed.
Kevin Heffernan of Boca Raton, a retired consultant to the Teamsters union who describes himself as a moderate who votes for candidates of both parties, thinks she'll be damaged by continued questions about Benghazi.
He doesn't think Clinton will run in 2016. "I think she's missed her opportunity."
Irving Rabiner, a Republican who lives in the largely Democratic territory west of Delray Beach, also isn't a Clinton fan. "I won't vote for her," he said.
But Rabiner sees a Clinton presidency as inevitable — assuming her health allows it. "If she is capable of it, I think she will run and she will win. I don't care who the Republican is."
Take our poll about Hillary Clinton and watch a video of a political analyst examining Clinton's South Florida appeal at SunSentinel.com/BrowardPolitics.
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