Volume 17, Number 43 | March 18 - 24, 2005


2008 field may already be narrowing down to Clinton


Downtown Express photo by Jennifer Weisbord
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton
In every presidential election since 1952, either a serving president or vice president has been on the ballot. Incumbency brings with it no guarantee of victory, but it does mean that over a span of more than five decades either the Republican or the Democratic candidate for the Oval Office could offer voters a sense of continuity with policies in place and with familiar political personalities.

“The last election was mostly about [George] Bush,” notes Al From, founder of the Democratic Leadership Council, which Bill Clinton used as a springboard some 15 years ago to mount the last successful Democratic campaign to oust an incumbent from the White House - Bush’s father.

“The 2008 election,” From predicts, “will be a fair fight about the future, where ideas will matter more than opposition.”

So-called open elections have their limits. If, three years hence, Hillary Rodham Clinton - now not widely identified as the most hawkish Democratic member of the Senate Armed Services Committee - should emerge as the nominee, then the scent of a closed dynastic succession would again waft through the political air. (Come 2008, the familial aroma would be even more pungent in a Clinton-Bush race should Florida Gov. Jeb Bush decide to run too.)

Nine clickable tabs on Clinton’s Senate Web site include one titled “Support Our Troops” - nicely nestled between “News & Speeches” and “Useful Links.” Not long ago, the New York senator showed her own support by visiting Iraq, in bipartisan symmetry with a former war hero, Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain (who could also run in 2008, although he will be 72 by then.) Hillary invites her constituents to sign “a virtual thank you card at the Defend America Website,” hosted by the Pentagon.

Already, Hillary has spawned more presidential buzz among the political and media cognoscenti than would otherwise be the case because the Democrats have no war hero to rally around — in the same fashion as Republicans flocked to Dwight Eisenhower in 1952 during that previous “open election.” There is, of course, John Kerry, last year’s war hero turned war critic, who may run again, as did Adlai Stevenson in 1956. But denial goes only so far among legions of dispirited Democrats. Kerry is no Stevenson.

Whatever hidden complexities inform the Clinton marriage, there can be no doubt that Bill serves as Hillary’s full partner in the run-up to her 2006 Senate campaign, which their devoted acolytes see in turn as a run-up to the much-anticipated “Glorious Revolution” of 2009.

A Clintonian restoration would do much to undo the perception that the Democrats have forfeited their relevance for the long haul - as occurred after the Civil War. Says From, “Clinton geared his entire 1992 campaign to surprising people by proving he was a different kind of Democrat from those they’d been voting against for years.”

In January, speaking in Albany with four years in the Senate already under her belted pantsuits, Hillary surprised some people by calling abortion “a sad, even tragic choice to many, many women.” She told an audience of family-planning advocates that while no one should question her support for the freedom to choose, she also believed the pro-abortion-rights and anti-abortion movements should seek common ground. When Bill pitched the same theme to Kerry last year, he didn’t swing for the fences. But you can be sure Hillary will listen with great care to political advice that will be coming her way from the prospective first gentleman.

Andy Glass is managing editor of The Hill, a weekly newspaper that covers Congress.

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