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How Hillary Clinton built her packed political resume

Hillary Clinton insists she did not consider running for anything until 2000, as her husband's time in the White House was winding down. But in Jan. 2007, two months after winning a second term as U.S. senator from New York, she announced she intended to be president. Her team expected a “coronation,” one journalist said in the last of our series on Clinton’s story. And then came Barack Obama.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And now we turn to the final installment of our three-part series on Hillary Clinton's life and legacy, which we have just been talking about.

    Tonight, a look at her post-first lady years, from her run for the U.S. Senate, to her hard-fought race for the White House in 2008, and finally serving as America's top diplomat. We explore what drove Hillary Clinton to carve her own path in American politics.

    After supporting her husband's political aspirations for almost three decades, Hillary Clinton decided it was her turn. In February of 2000, while still in the White House, she threw her hat in the race to replace the longtime U.S. Senator from New York Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

    REBECCA TRAISTER, Author, "All The Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation": Lots of people assume that Hillary Clinton has always had this driving desire to be president, like her entire life has been shaped by an ambition to be in the White House.

    And that may or may not be true, but what was certainly true was that it wasn't something that she could practically envision for herself. Her version of the story is that she didn't consider taking on her own independent political career until the end of her husband's second term in the White House.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Less than one year later, with the soon-to-be-former president by her side, Clinton became the first first lady elected to public office.

    Former White House aide David Gergen calls Clinton's Senate years the finest and probably most satisfying years of her public life.

  • DAVID GERGEN, Former White House Aide:

    There's a famous phrase about when you go to the Senate, are you going to be like a show horse or a workhorse? And she was very much the workhorse.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    She served on the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee, worked to extend health care to National Guard members and fought for expanded services for veterans and their families. But one vote in particular would plague her for years to come.

    SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), New York: This is probably the hardest decision I have ever had to make. Any vote that might lead to war should be hard. But I cast it with conviction.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Clinton now calls her 2002 vote to authorize the use of military force in Iraq a mistake. But, in 2007, when she first set her sights on the presidency, she doubled down on the Iraq decision.

    Reporter Indira Lakshmanan calls it a political miscalculation.

  • INDIRA LAKSHMANAN, Journalist:

    They thought it was a coronation. They thought that she was definitely going to have the Democratic nomination in the bag. And so they were already, from the beginning, trying to have her run almost like a general election candidate. They were trying to have her be centrist or even right of center, appeal to the so-called security moms.

    And they were still in this kind of post-9/11 mentality, without realizing that certainly Democrats were so disenchanted over the Iraq War.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    The 2008 campaign quickly ran into something else that caught them off-guard, a political newcomer named Barack Obama, who pulled off a surprise win in the Iowa caucuses. Clinton's loss there led to a memorable encounter with a voter ahead of the New Hampshire primary.

  • WOMAN:

    My question is very personal. How do you do it?

  • HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON:

    I couldn't do it if I just didn't passionately believe it was the right thing to do. You know, I have so many opportunities from this country. I just don't want to see us fall backwards.

  • INDIRA LAKSHMANAN:

    It was at that moment that she showed her humanity and her vulnerability, and a lot of people credit that with turning the vote in New Hampshire around for her.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Clinton went on to win New Hampshire, along with 22 other states. However, it wasn't enough. Deeply disappointed, she waited until after the last Democratic primary in June to throw her support to Obama.

  • HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON:

    I move Senator Barack Obama of Illinois be selected by this convention by acclimation as the nominee of the Democratic Party for president of the United States.

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    But then she campaigned hard for him, and soon after his November victory, she agreed to become his secretary of state.

    Almost right away, Clinton appeared more natural as the nation's chief diplomat than she had been as a candidate.

  • INDIRA LAKSHMANAN:

    As soon as she had a job to do and was a Cabinet member of the United States, she seemed completely relaxed and completely focused on doing that job.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    She worked to gain the respect of both foreign allies and adversaries.

  • INDIRA LAKSHMANAN:

    Even when there were times and places where people were not happy about United States foreign policy and were not thrilled to see her, she didn't back down and apologize for U.S. policies. It was interesting to see her, even in difficult situations sort of — do a sort of, like, jujitsu.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    But with many complex global challenges, it was also a time of disappointments and failures.

  • INDIRA LAKSHMANAN:

    She didn't get a Middle East peace deal. She didn't get an Iran nuclear agreement. That was something that happened under her successor, John Kerry. She didn't bring an end to the Syrian war. One wonders whether some of that is a very high bar to which to hold her to, because some of those seem like they're intractable problems.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Clinton was also a driving force in the White House decision to militarily support the overthrow of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi. President Obama now calls his administration's lack of planning for what came next the biggest mistake of his presidency.

    Libya spiraled into chaos, and one year later, the American Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, was attacked. U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed. Republicans slammed Clinton for not providing the outpost with sufficient security.

  • HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON:

    What difference, at this point, does it make?

  • INDIRA LAKSHMANAN:

    We can all Monday-morning quarterback, look back at it now, and say, was that a good decision, was it not? On the other hand, had tens of thousands of people been slaughtered in Libya because the United States, France, and Britain, and NATO had not come in, you know, the situation could've been worse.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Clinton stepped down from the State Department in February 2013, amid speculation she was readying another run for the White House.

  • DAVID GERGEN:

    I think what motivates her is to be a transformational woman leader. I think she feels that. She's been trained for this all her life. She's been preparing for it. You know, talented men have stepped forward and had that opportunity. Time for a woman to be a leader.

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