WASHINGTON — Hillary Clinton embarked on an extraordinary campaign road trip on Sunday after launching her bid to become the first woman to win the White House with a pledge to champion "everyday Americans".
With an eye to putting behind her the jet-set image of a former first lady, secretary of state and global charity director, Clinton boarded a simple minivan to head from New York to Iowa.
A few hours into the surprise 1,600 kilometre trip, the 67-year-old Democrat tweeted a picture of herself meeting a family of ordinary voters at a Pennsylvania gas station.
"When Hillary first told us that she was ready to hit the road for Iowa, we looked at her and said: 'Seriously?' And she said: 'Seriously'," Hillary's senior aide Huma Abedin said.
"This was her idea, and she has been really excited about it. We've been driving for a good part of today," she added, in a conference call from the road for supporters and reporters.
Long assumed to be the frontrunner for her Democratic Party's presidential nomination, Clinton's formal entry into the race unleashes her fundraising machine and social media operation.
She put an end to the pantomime surrounding the worst kept secret in US politics by posting an ad on her new Facebook page and website and sending links to her three million Twitter followers.
"I'm running for president," a beaming Clinton said in a slickly produced video that quickly went viral.
"Everyday Americans need a champion, and I want to be that champion."
The two-minute clip featured upbeat middle-class families from a variety of backgrounds sharing their aspirations.
Her campaign said Clinton will spend the next six to eight weeks building a grassroots organization and "engaging directly with voters".
Her first major rally and the speech that kicks off her campaign is not expected until May, but Clinton's van trip will take her to meet small groups of voters in Iowa.
In Iowa, the first state to vote in an election year, Clinton will talk "about how to make the economy work so everyday Americans and their families can actually get ahead and stay ahead".
"We can't take anything for granted, and we'll have to fight really hard for every single vote, and that obviously starts in the primaries," said campaign manager Robby Mook.
"Hillary got into this race to fight for everyday Americans".
The announcement will trigger a donation deluge from supporters who have long waited for her to officially enter the race.
But it also triggered a Republican response.
The Republican National Committee aid Clinton "has left a trail of secrecy, scandal and failed policies that can't be erased from voters' minds".
"We must do better than Hillary," tweeted former Florida governor Jeb Bush, foreshadowing the intense back-and-forth expected to play out on social media in the run up to the November 2016 election. -- AFP