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Hillary Clinton makes big hire

Hillary Clinton has hired a research director to help tell her own story.

Another piece of Hillary Clinton’s campaign-in-waiting is falling into place with the addition of Tony Carrk, who is expected to serve as Clinton’s research director, several Democrats familiar with the hire tell msnbc.

Carrk, who worked on Clinton’s 2008 presidential bid and led rapid response research efforts at the Democratic National Committee, most recently worked for the political arm of the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank with close ties to Clinton and the Obama White House. He also has an expertise on health care policy, a longtime focus of Clinton's.

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Campaign research typically focuses on the art of digging up dirt on opponents and exposing holes in their policy positions, but Clinton’s team may focus on better telling her own story first.

In contrast to 2008, when Clinton sought to project strength and experience, her campaign this time is likely to focus on her personal narrative. Aides, who have already started working as volunteers in New York City, even though the campaign does not yet exist, have been researching Clinton’s middle class upbringing and mining it for positive anecdotes and potential vulnerabilities.

Clinton hired Adrienne Elrod, who had already been doing similar work at an outside group called Correct the Record for more than a year. And positive messaging is also said to be a focus of Clinton’s expected deputy communications director, Kristina Schake, who is credited with improving Michelle Obama’s image. Brian Fallon, who is expected to serve as Clinton’s top spokesperson, helped turn around public perception of Attorney General Eric Holder.

Despite the decades Clinton has spent in the public eye, new vulnerabilities could emerge, especially in parts of her life that have not yet come under the spotlight of a presidential campaign, as recent controversies have shown. Clinton was slow to begin researching herself ahead of a campaign, waiting until she was sure she wanted to run to hire the Democratic firm New Partners.

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The addition of a research director comes as Clinton has stepped up attacks on Republicans on Twitter, even as she simultaneously preaches an anti-partisan message in public appearances.

On Thursday, Clinton spoke out against an Indiana religious freedom law that advocates say sanctions LGBT discrimination. It was signed by Gov. Mike Pence, a potential Republican presidential candidate. “Sad this new Indiana law can happen in America today. We shouldn't discriminate against ppl bc of who they love,” Clinton wrote on Twitter. 

That was one of Clinton’s three most widely viewed tweets of the year, according to Twitter, which analyzed her account on behalf of msnbc, garnering more than 40,000 retweets and nearly as many favorites.

Her most popular tweet of the year also took aim at potential Republican candidates. “The science is clear: The earth is round, the sky is blue, and #vaccineswork,” she wrote in early February during the height of a controversy over vaccines involving Chris Christie and Rand Paul.

At the same time, Clinton has avoided engaging with potential Republican presidential candidates directly or by name, and mostly tried to transcend partisanship. In recent appearances, she has preached a nonpartisan message of coming together to get things done in Washington.

Speaking at the Center for American Progress last week, Clinton said leaders of both parties need to get out of their “ideological bunkers” and stop having “arguments instead of trying to reach across those divides and come up with some solutions.”

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Without a mortal threat in a Democratic primary at the moment, Clinton can afford to stay above the fray and focus her message at general election voters who are fed up with Washington gridlock and want a leader who will get things done.

The Democratic National Committee and the Democratic super PAC American Bridge, meanwhile, are working full time to attack Clinton’s likely GOP rivals.

One open question is when and how strongly Clinton will engage Democrats who might challenge her. And she may have to decide sooner than later, as former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley took stronger-than-expected shots at Clinton Sunday ahead of a potential presidential campaign launch of his own.