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Jewish World Review July 31, 2002 / 22 Menachem-Av, 5762

Seth Gitell

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Consumer Reports

President Hillary? Despite her denials, candidacy is not that unlikely | For days, the buzz in political circles has been all about the Democratic Leadership Council's "National Conversation ." The two-day event was expected to be the first real showcase for several of the 2004 Democratic presidential hopefuls - Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, Senator John Edwards of North Carolina, and House minority leader Richard Gephardt of Missouri. (Former vice-president Al Gore put the word out that he was skipping it.)

The event actually took place Monday, and the prominent Democrat whom everybody is talking about is none of the above. Instead, it's New York's junior senator, Hillary Rodham Clinton. Both New York tabloids reported that Clinton stole the show with a firebrand speech defending her husband's management of the economy in the 1990s.

Now is the time for all the male would-be Democratic nominees - Gore included - to start worrying.

Clinton possesses an extraordinary resilience combined with the celebrity to pierce most voters' electoral ignorance. This is not the first time Clinton has outshone Kerry. She performed similarly at a March fundraiser here in Boston, where the largely female crowd seemed more interested in her than in the Massachusetts senator.

Clinton has repeatedly expressed her lack of interest in a 2004 presidential race. In evaluating those responses, however, I'd invoke the general rule of dealing with Clintons: namely, don't believe them. If Clinton and her allies believe she has a chance to steal the nomination, she will do it, no questions asked. When Representative Charles Rangel of New York first raised the possibility of her running for Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan's seat back in 1998, at the height of the impeachment struggle, everybody - including the then-first lady - laughed it off. But when it appeared that neither New York comptroller (and current gubernatorial candidate) Carl McCall nor Andy Cuomo (then the HUD secretary, and now another candidate for New York governor) was catching on, Clinton went for it.

The likelihood of her jumping into the race will intensify if President George Bush's poll ratings continue to diminish. Add the possibility of an otherwise tepid Democratic field, and Clinton will definitely get into it.

The prevailing rule of politics is to expect the unexpected. Who, after all, believed at the beginning of this year that Governor Jane Swift would be now making plans to return to the Berkshires, and that Massachusetts's Republican gubernatorial nominee would be W. Mitt Romney? Who could have envisioned the battle for the Bay State's Democratic gubernatorial nomination becoming essentially a two-person fight between Treasurer Shannon O'Brien and former secretary of labor Robert Reich?

If the economy continues to unravel -- or worse -- even more of the unexpected could occur. Clinton could join the race for the Democratic presidential nomination. Senator John McCain - who has been equally resolute in denying any interest in running in 2004 - could decide to run as an independent. It seems impossible now, but politics is the art of making the unexpected the conventional. You could have a Bush-McCain-Clinton race in 2004. Imagine that.

JWR contributor Seth Gitell is the political writer of the Boston Phoenix Comment by clicking here.

07/26/02: On the road with John Kerry
07/17/02: Meet the 'Clinton' of the 2004 New Hampshire primary
07/12/02: Ancient rivalry: Williams vs. DiMaggio
07/10/02: Warrior spirit
05/08/02: Hosting a TV show will keep Clinton off the streets
04/26/02: Truth in advertising in SaudiLand --- and ours
02/28/02: Time for hipsters to do a reality-check

© 2002, Seth Gitell