Politics & Policy

Hillary ’04

Buzzing about the N.Y. junior senator as Dem savior.

Will Hillary Rodham Clinton run for president? The question has vexed us for years. Recent rumors suggest that we might not have to wait until 2007, that we’ll have the answer later this year, when she jumps in the ring for the 2004 prize.

Democrats will draft her to run before we hit primary season, or so some of the prognostication goes. The current edition of U.S. News and World Report, in its “Washington Whispers” column, predicts: “If a favorite other than Sharpton doesn’t become obvious by late fall, look for a strong effort to draft Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, too, seemed to teasingly introduce the idea earlier this month in Florida. A columnist for the Orlando Sentinel reported:

Whoever wins the nomination, Pelosi said, “he or she will make us very proud.”

Wait a minute, I asked the minority leader afterward:

That “she” — is it former Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun of Illinois, who was courting labor leaders in Hollywood, or is it U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, a name riding high in opinion polls but still resting squarely on the sidelines?

“I’m saying,” Pelosi replied with a playful smile, “I think we haven’t seen the whole field.”

Dems may be coyly floating the idea, but a number of pundits and analysts from both parties dismiss it. One Democratic insider tells NRO: “That’s just a conservative fantasy.”

The timing’s just not right, most agree. Crystal-ball reader Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia speculates: “Hillary herself realizes the time is not right. It’s too soon after Pardon-gate, Furniture-gate, and all the Clinton-gates to try for a comeback. Public memory is short, but not this short.”

“She needs a full eight degrees of separation,” Sabato says, “plus a public mood that will elect even a polarizing Democrat. There are no guarantees, but at the moment, 2008 looks to be a better shot than 2004.”

Still, it is an intriguing possibility. As Joyce Milton, a Hillary biographer, reminds NRO, “Hillary can never resist seizing an opportunity and I think she will be tempted to run if it appears that a Democrat can win in ‘04.” After all, says Milton, “After the Gulf War, when Bush I looked unbeatable, Hillary was among the first to see that he was vulnerable and she urged Bill to get into the race instead of waiting four more years. I don’t think she would risk getting lost in the crowd during the early primaries. But if no clear leader emerges, we might see her in the race.”

Peggy Noonan, author of The Case Against Hillary Clinton (2000) and contributing editor of the Wall Street Journal, is skeptical of the rumors: A Hillary ‘04 scenario would only happen as a last resort. Senator Clinton will run this time around, Noonan says, “only if she’s fairly certain Bush is a goner. And only after months of ‘But-friends-report-that-Mrs.-Clinton-is-happy-in-the-Senate, has-found-’a-home’-there, is-reluctant-to-even-think-of-a-challenge-to-Bush’ stories. She would only move in 2004 if she knew she’d be painted as the savior of her party.”

So, barring a doomsday scenario for the Democrats, the former First Lady is staying put for now. John McLaughlin, a Republican pollster based in New York State, says he is watching the real strategy in action: “The Clintons have figured out that the road back to the White House is for her to run in 2008 in an open race after a term-limited President Bush retires. So watch for her to attack him ideologically on his strengths to maintain her base and his at the same time.”

“A good example,” McLaughlin says, “was when Sen. Clinton recently attacked the president on homeland security in a major speech. It dominated and blocked any criticism from the crowded field of Democrat presidential wannabes, kept her out front as the leader of the liberals, and reinforced President Bush’s strongest asset which keeps him as the best bet for reelection in 2004. The Prince would be proud. Look for more of the same through the 2004 election.”

The short answer then: If you have to put money down, don’t shoot too high with Hillary, at least for challenging W. But, if you’ve already ordered them, don’t throw out the Hillary ‘04 bumper stickers or op-research binders-depending on which side you’re on — just yet. The primary season is a war and a world away.


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