With Hillary Clinton announcing her presidential campaign today, IrishCentral checked in with some prominent Irish American leaders and activists on her odds, strengths and challenges. 

Now that the question of “will she or won’t she?” has been answered, much larger questions have opened up. Has Clinton learned the important lessons from 2008? Who among her fellow Democrats and among the Republicans poses the greatest competitive threat? What policies will it be crucial for her to hone in on along the campaign trail?

Here’s what four of her strong supporters had to say: 

Will she win the primary?  

The answer was a resounding yes. “Hillary will absolutely be the Democratic winner,” said businessman John Fitzpatrick, chair of the American Ireland Fund and a long time Hillary Clinton supporter.  “She has both domestic and international experience and comes with the backing of people from across the country of all socio-economic segments.”

Bruce Morrison attorney and former Congressman (and a fellow Irish America Hall of Fame inductee of Hillary’s) agreed, adding “I think she's favored now and the lessons of 2008 are behind her so she'll stay ahead.” 

Her toughest opponents

Clinton must first win the Democratic primary election before the race for the White House is truly hers to run. Stella O’Leary of the Irish American Democrats and immigration attorney Brian O’Dwyer both mentioned Martin O’Malley, the Irish American governor of Maryland, as a potential Democratic competitor, though O’Leary did note that this was from an Irish American perspective.

Jim Webb, the former Virginia Senator with Scots-Irish roots, was also thrown out as a possible competitor. O’Dwyer noted that both Webb and O’Malley “have lots of very positive things to say. I think they will put her to the test in the primary, I think she will be victorious but I think there will we be a hardcore primary.” 

Clinton previously told O’Malley to ‘do what he needs to do’ for the 2016 election, which could likely indicate that she doesn’t see him as a significant threat.

As John Fitzpatrick said, “At this time, there are no opponents on the Democratic side that have the name recognition and the capital or the message that can compete against her, unless someone emerges that we don’t know about.”

When the question came to the strongest Republican candidates, Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida, was the universal answer. Fitzpatrick noted that Bush is more moderate in many ways than his fellow Republicans, particularly when it comes to immigration reform. O’Dwyer selected Bush “If for no other reason than he would be more competitive in Florida.

“While not critical to the Democrats, Florida is important. If a Democrat wins Ohio or Florida in the general election, they have a clear shot at the White House.” 

Morrison added that Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin was another potential, provided his current popularity streak continues.

Hillary’s policy priorities

“The most important thing Hillary must do is convince average Americans that she is on their side and will promote their economic opportunity for the future,” said Morrison.

Income inequality was frequently mentioned as a significant priority, as was immigration.

O’Leary also outlined the priorities for the Irish American community, which include immigration, maintaining and furthering peace in Northern Ireland, and keeping a favorable business relationship with Ireland, though she did add “I don’t think we need to worry about her affection for Ireland; I think she considers Ireland family.” O’Leary pointed to her presence at the recent Irish America Magazine Hall of Fame event as an example of Clinton goodwill. 

“That sent a clear message.”

Challenges ahead

Republican attacks were the most frequently mentioned challenges for Hillary to overcome on the road to the White House.

“It will not be a walkover,” Morrison said. “Just in the last month the Republicans have started to get a lot more publicity and the polling data has things neck and neck with all the potential Republican opponents.

“It's especially difficult for anybody to win a third Democratic term. That happens very rarely and is something for her to overcome. “I think she can win,” he added, “but I don’t think anybody should assume it's a given.”

“Her greatest challenge will be staying “on message” and not to react to criticism of herself, as the press will be sure to go after her because she is a Clinton,” Fitzpatrick said.

O’Leary said that, apart from Republican attack campaigns, she sees “more plusses than negatives” in Hillary’s chances.

“The biggest is that she's a woman. Whether we’re Irish or Italians or Americans, we're women first so the women's vote will be crucial, and women are big voters. I don't see any major challenge coming from the Republicans right now, I don't see anybody shining so bright they're going to outshine her.” 

The Irish American vote will be crucial

Irish Americans were instrumental in voting Bill Clinton into office and, judging by the comments IrishCentral heard, they will be every bit as critical to Hillary’s success – nowhere more so than in the swing states with large Irish American populations.

“In terms of the electoral college, the Irish American vote is going to be crucial and critical in at least 3 states in play where IAs are an important part of the population: Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania,” O’Dwyer said. “If she wins all three, there’s no way she can be kept from the White House.”

O’Leary expressed delight that the 2016 Democratic National Convention will be in Philadelphia. “There’s a huge Irish contingent there,” she said. “I don't think the Republicans could win the election without Ohio and Pennsylvania, and we have also have a huge contingent in Ohio, in Cleveland.

“We're important everywhere,” she said of Irish Americans, “but particularly in those states.

“The good news about us is the Irish has a history of voting. We vote. So what we have to do is get the word out.”   

John FitzPatrick with Hillary Clinton