Spitzer's Troubles May Hurt Clinton
Echoes of the Past Could Drown Out Campaign Messages

By Peter Baker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 12, 2008

For a supporter, New York Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer (D) sure hasn't done Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) any favors lately.

After all, it was Spitzer who, in the view of her advisers, caused the slide that put her where she is today, fighting from behind for the Democratic presidential nomination. A question about his proposal to let illegal immigrants get driver's licenses tripped her up in a debate in late October and ended 10 months of unquestioned dominance in the race for the nomination.

Now, his apparent involvement with a prostitution ring has not only distracted attention from her efforts to take down the front-runner, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), it has also brought back unhelpful memories of her own husband's dalliances in office. There on cable television again were pictures of Bill Clinton hugging Monica S. Lewinsky. And the image of Spitzer's wife standing painfully by his side while he acknowledged unspecified wrongdoing could not help but remind some of Hillary Clinton's own stand-by-her-man moment.

This certainly is not the way Clinton's strategists would have mapped out this week on the campaign trail. They want voters to be thinking about that 3 a.m. phone call in terms of who is ready to handle a crisis in the White House, not in terms of where an unfaithful husband might be catting around town. And, sure enough, the late-night comedians wasted little time linking the Spitzer case to the Clintons. Jay Leno joked Monday night that Spitzer's scandal "means Hillary Clinton is now only the second angriest woman in the state of New York." David Letterman offered a Top 10 List of excuses Spitzer might cite, including the No. 1 excuse: "I thought Bill Clinton legalized this years ago."

Hillary Clinton was asked about the case late Monday and, predictably enough, tried to brush it off without comment. "I obviously send my best wishes to the governor and his family," she told reporters. Still, it is hard to imagine that will be the last time she is asked about it.

Spitzer has been a bad-luck charm for Hillary Clinton up to this point. His proposal on illegal immigrant driver's licenses arguably led to the first time she was truly thrown off stride in this campaign. Fairly or not, her muddled answer at a debate in Philadelphia about whether she supported it played into the narrative promoted by opponents that she is more about calculation than principle. That led to a bad patch for her that lasted all the way through the Iowa caucuses. Her advisers pinpoint that inartful two-minute answer as the moment when the race turned.

Now Spitzer may throw her off stride again at a moment when she needs to keep her momentum going.

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