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Hillary and the Passion Question

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By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 5, 2006; 7:38 AM

An anti-Hillary drumbeat is building in the media.

(Hey, the holidays are coming, what else we got to do?)

The other day, MSNBC kept running the headline "Hillary Overrated?"

There was obviously going to come a point when journos and political types would question whether the former first lady was indeed such a formidable front-runner. But now? Before she's even declared? I wonder what's driving this--some sort of whispering campaign in Democratic circles?

Hillary Clinton's advantages are formidable: Her name, her stature, her ability to quickly raise huge bucks (and spend it just as quickly, if her cakewalk Senate campaign was any indication). Plus, she's a connection to the Democrats' glory days, which runs roughly from the '92 campaign to Monica. And what other candidate has already lived in the White House?

Her disadvantages? Well, maybe they're all the same, except for the fundraising prowess, although Howard Dean's $40-million war chest didn't end up doing him much good last time. And her connection to the peace and prosperity of the Bill years also means that Whitewater, billing records and the failure to get Osama can be dredged up and recycled against her.

The rap against Clinton is that her base is not terribly excited about her (especially given her vote for the war) but the other side finds her scary--in short, that she's a polarizing figure. But she got plenty of upstate Republicans to vote for her this time around.

The truth is, we won't really know what kind of candidate Hillary is until she takes the plunge--which she has been telling New York Democratic leaders she is going to do, the NYT reports. (Guess she won't be writing a book titled If I Did It.) And part of the test will be how she handles the press, of which she was famously wary while in the White House.

The New York Post (where owner Rupert Murdoch has attended an HRC fundraiser) gives the screaming-headline treatment to an unnamed source: "Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton yesterday answered the question on everyone's mind -- telling one New York lawmaker flat out: "'I'm really going to go for this.'"

Andrew Sullivan had already begged her not to run, and National Review Editor Rich Lowry says that after 20 years of Clintons and Bushes, "who doesn't hunger for a clean break? Thus the energy behind the possible presidential bid of Illinois Sen. Barack Obama. He is the only presidential candidate from either party about whom there is a palpable excitement. And that is because everything about him says, 'I'm not a Bush, I'm not a Clinton, and can we please talk about something else?'

"It will be manifestly good for the country if it elects a president in 2008 who doesn't elicit yowling hatred from the other side. Hillary Clinton probably will, and that's a mark against her. Perhaps there's an element of blackmail here, as if conservatives are saying, 'Don't nominate her, because we'll hate her but good.' But even on the left there's a certain weariness with Clinton.

"A liberal friend of mine says when he mentions Hillary in the course of talking about 2008 to audiences, there's always skeptical grumbling in the room. Some liberals don't think she can win; others think she compromises too much. Hillary would have formidable assets in a 2008 race, but the timing could be against her. Maybe it's too soon for another Clinton in presidential politics. On the Republican side, the most talented and accomplished Republican officeholder in the country, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, is sitting '08 out precisely because of the baggage that currently attaches to his last name.


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© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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