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Thursday, February 10, 2005

Give 'em Hill

Do we really want to think about Election 2008? We may have no choice given the buzz around a new poll and the potential historical significance of its results. It seems Hillary Rodham Clinton’s 2008 campaign for president is unofficially underway.

According to very early numbers reported yesterday in aUSA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll she is a 40 percent favorite among Democrats, blowing well past John Kerry and John Edwards, and six percentage points ahead of the Republican frontrunner, former New York Mayor Rudolph Guiliani.

"Whether she runs or not, this is significant," according to Kathleen Casey, associate director of the Center for Women in Politics at Rutgers University, as reported in USA Today.

Significant indeed. Back in 1992, dubbed “The Year of the Woman,” I interviewed EMILY’s List President Ellen R. Malcolm at the Ritz-Carlton in Downtown Cleveland. EMILY is not a person it’s an acronym for “Early Money Is Like Yeast” (it helps the dough rise). There was so much excitement about women in poltics then. That year six Democratic female U.S. Senators and 20 new female congresswomen were elected. By all accounts, it was a good year for women in politics.

But women have failed to field strong national candidates despite the efforts of EMILY’s List (though admittedly it only serves one side of the electorate — Democrat and pro-choice). Elizabeth Dole was a Republican name bandied about for a while during the early days of the 2000 presidential election, but she essentially vanished from the national view until she was elected to represent North Carolina in the U.S. Senate in 2002. She could be planning something for the future. A Google search revealed the Friends of Elizabeth Dole site currently under construction.

USA Today reports: "In one respect, the results are not surprising: Clinton, the only former first lady ever to be elected to office in her own right, is one of the most prominent and controversial people in American political life.

"But her poll status also represents a historic breakthrough: No other female candidate has had such a serious chance of winning a major party's nomination for the presidency."

There are a few interesting dynamics at work. First, Clinton
“fired the shot heard 'round the campaign,”
as New York Daily News columnist Michael Goodwin wrote on Jan. 30, when at a speech to an abortion-rights group in Albany, N.Y., on the 32nd anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision she appealed to both sides of this debate to find “common ground.”

Goodwin called it the “perfect two-fer. On one level, it was about Roe vs. Wade. At heart, it was about her.

“Come together over abortion, she seemed to say, and meanwhile, look at me. I'm not so bad, I'm really a moderate. Really.

“Testing. Testing. It's the new-and-improved Hillary, trying out some fresh material for 2008. And why not? Somebody has to be president.

“Coming at a time when Dems are sifting through the ashes trying to figure out who they want to be when they grow up, Clinton showed she already has her own answers,” Goodwin writes.

And it seems that she also has figured out a way to sincerely talk about religion, something John Kerry was unable to do (then again he’s a Catholic and a New Englander and neither are known for proselytizing faith).

But one op-ed columnist on Yahoo News says that Clinton’s ability to “talk convincingly about faith without sounding like a hypocrite or a panderer” is what distance her from her male Democratic colleagues. John Leo writes here “On church and state, she says, ‘There is no contradiction between support for faith-based initiatives and upholding our constitutional principles.’ Rather, she said, believers must be allowed ‘to live out their faith in the public square.’

“You don't have to be overwhelmed by Hillary Clinton's sincerity to conclude that she is making some smart moves now. She is beginning to distance herself from Democratic dogma.”

I’m not sure if she can go the distance. There’s no question that she’s a polarizing figure. But she’s worked hard in the Senate and has, until recently, quietly gone about serving her constituency.

Leo writes: “Once in the Senate, she made a beeline for the Armed Services Committee because she understood that the first female president will have to be a hawk, just as the first Catholic president (JFK) had to be adamant about not aiding Catholic schools.”

Would I love to see a woman leading this country? Absolutely! But so much is going to be riding on that pioneer to the presidency. There's plenty of time to plan, strategize, campaign, raise money, make strides. I'm hopeful that there are no guffaws along the way. Clinton strikes me as a very smart, savvy woman, but, more important, as one who knows herself well. So at the very least, she’ll give us something interesting to watch and, perhaps, inspire the next generation of women to serve.

In case you’re curious, visit the official “Draft Hillary Clinton for President”site.

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