Here's how Hillary Clinton's rivals hope to use her past to sink her 2016 campaign
Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pictured during a presentation of her new book at Schiller theatre in Berlin, Germany on July 6, 2014. (AFP)

Hillary Clinton looks ahead to 2016 as the year Americans may finally elect their first-ever female president, but her past is burdened with blemishes and gaffes that could compromise if not sink her campaign.

Clinton intends to draw on her wealth of experience as first lady, US senator and globe-trotting secretary of state to convince voters she is the best person for the job.

But the Republican National Committee is already labelling her past as a "decades-long record of secrecy and scandal." Here's a look:

- The Lewinsky affair -

President Bill Clinton's sexual indiscretions have long dogged the superstar Democratic couple.

Arkansas employee Paula Jones sued Clinton for sexual harassment. The president testified in 1998 that he had intimate relations with former reporter Gennifer Flowers.

Years earlier, he had sat next to Hillary and insisted on CBS's "60 Minutes" that accusations of a Clinton-Flowers affair were false.

But the truly explosive scandal was the relationship Bill had with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, and the subsequent December 1998 impeachment of Clinton by the House of Representatives for perjury and obstructing a federal investigation.

He was acquitted by the Senate, but the episode is a scab that might be peeled back over the next 18 months.

"It's not Hillary's fault," Republican Senator Rand Paul, himself a likely presidential candidate, said last year about Bill's trysts.

But Paul said the affair should now be fair game, and warned of the damage of sending a philanderer back to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue as first husband.

- Whitewater -

Arkansas was a mixed blessing for the Clintons. They launched their political dynasty there, but it was also scene of a land-development scandal involving the Clintons while Bill was governor.

He and Hillary teamed up with Whitewater Development Corporation partners Jim and Susan McDougal on a business venture that soured in the 1980s. Amid disputes over loans, shady deals and charges of fraud, the McDougals went to jail.

The Clintons were never prosecuted, but the name Whitewater could serve as a dog whistle for conservatives eager to dredge up the 1990s controversies in Clintonland.

- Rich woman, poor woman -

The Clintons are wealthy by any measure, but that has not always been the case. In Arkansas they lived in relative modesty.

Although that changed in Washington, Clinton blurted out to ABC television last year that the Clintons were "dead broke" when they left the White House.

They were indeed saddled with Bill Clinton's huge legal fees from the Lewinsky scandal. But they nonetheless purchased a reported $1.7-million home in Chappaqua, New York in 1999, and a seven-bedroom manor in Washington a year later for $2.85 million.

They both have made millions in speaking fees since, and Hillary quickly clarified later that she has had "terrific" opportunities in life.

But Republicans could still aim to paint her as out of touch.

- Benghazi -

Perhaps Clinton's chief failure while top diplomat was the response to the attacks on the US mission in Benghazi, Libya on September 11, 2012. Republicans hammer her for not doing enough, and accuse the administration of changing the "talking points" issued by the CIA into downplaying the assault.

But what might live on through the 2016 campaign is Clinton's exasperated response when questioned by Republicans over what prompted the assault that killed four Americans.

"What difference, at this point does it make?" Clinton boomed in a 2013 Senate hearing, in comments that quickly went viral.

Complicating the never-ending Benghazi probe, the House committee investigating the attack learned in March that Clinton contravened government rules by exclusively using a private email account during her four years at the State Department.

Those emails were kept on her private computer server. And while Clinton insisted she gave all official emails to State, she has refused to turn over the server to a neutral party as requested by the House committee's chairman.