Mrs Clinton faces two problems in igniting their passion. First, Mr Obama has lost the faith of the liberal base. Much of what remains has been captured by Elizabeth Warren, the senator from Massachusetts, who insists she has no intention of taking on Mrs Clinton.
Mrs Warren’s message is anti-Wall Street. It resonates with the party’s grassroots – and probably most of its grass consumers too. Her populism puts Mrs Clinton in a bind. She would have a hard time co-opting Mrs Warren’s language without alienating her financial backers. Yet she must also find a new generation of economic advisers.
At a time of crisis, Mr Obama turned to the gurus of her husband’s presidency – the so-called Rubinites, after Robert Rubin, Bill Clinton’s longest-serving Treasury Secretary. Mrs Clinton will need new ideas and new faces. Who they will be – and what they will advise – is anyone’s guess.
Second, Mrs Clinton runs up against the truism that the Democratic whole is often less than the sum of its parts. Republicans may be getting more monochrome – whites are a shrinking share of the US population and a growing part of the Republican one. But that makes them easier to marshal. It is simpler to target a message to one group than many. Mr Obama overcame that problem in 2008 with a once-in-a-generation appeal to a larger sense of America. It will be hard to conjure that vision again.
As it stands, whatever coalition is expected to carry Mrs Clinton over the finishing line is likely to result from a calculated process of addition. In politics, winning is ultimately about ideas. In the absence of new ones, Mrs Clinton’s bridge to the White House looks rickety.