Unflattering Books Cause Hardly a Ripple

By Dan Balz and Perry Bacon Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, May 27, 2007

As Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) campaigned across Iowa this weekend, she was asked about the war in Iraq, illegal immigration and even whether her husband, former president Bill Clinton, might serve as secretary of state if she makes it to the White House.

But at no time during events in Algona, Mason City, Charles City or Emmetsburg was she asked for her reaction to a pair of soon-to-be-released books that portray her and her husband in an unflattering light and that recount in illuminating detail the stormy history of their days together in Arkansas and later in the White House.

Clinton advisers say the early reaction confirms their belief that Americans long ago digested those controversies, drew whatever conclusions they wanted and moved on.

"This is not the first time we've had books written about the senator that were less than favorable, campaign spokesman Howard Wolfson said. "Our experience is that there is some initial media interest in them and then they don't have any impact on the race."

Neither book has been officially released. When they are in early June, both will be backed by major publicity tours and advertising. As such, even without new bombshells, the books threaten to plunge candidate Clinton back into the soap opera that was so often the Clinton administration.

She remains one of the most divisive figures in American politics, and a major challenge for her campaign is to turn someone whose history is so thoroughly familiar and controversial into a future-oriented candidate seen by the voters as capable of changing a country wracked by partisanship and political polarization.

"HRC's deadly problem," Republican strategist Mike Murphy said in an e-mail message, "is that, while she's running in a change election, most of her identity is about the past, which is a very bad position to be in."

Even some Republicans agreed with Clinton's team that the books will have minimal effect on Clinton's campaign. For Clinton haters, one strategist said, the books will reinforce what they believe already, but they will change no minds.

Democratic strategists not attached to Clinton's campaign offered harsher assessments, although they spoke on the condition of anonymity because they do not want to get into a public fight with the former first couple.

One Democrat called the books a reminder of "the tawdriness of the Dogpatch days," while another said, "It's not a deal killer, but it reinforces people's preconceived notions about her." He said his rule of thumb for her campaign is this: "The more the conversation is about the past, the worse for her. The more it's about the future, the better for her."

The story told in the new volumes -- "A Woman in Charge: The Life of Hillary Rodham Clinton," by Carl Bernstein; and "Her Way: The Hopes and Ambitions of Hillary Rodham Clinton," by Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta Jr. -- is, in its broadest outlines, familiar to most Americans.

The books recount the roller-coaster ride through the Clinton presidency and his tenure as governor of Arkansas, raising anew issues of marital strife and infidelity, Clinton's strong and sometimes controlling personality, the scandals that ultimately led to impeachment, the failed effort to reform health care and much more.

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