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GOP Primary Story Stars a Democratic Antagonist

Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 14, 2007; Page A01

They mock her proposals, utter her name with a sneer and win standing ovations by ridiculing her ideas as un-American, even socialistic. She has become the one thing the Republican candidates for president can agree on.

Hillary Clinton.

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Earlier this year, the senator from New York was the subject of an occasional laugh line from former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani. Now, the trickle has become a torrent as the leading GOP candidates seek to one-up one another in a Clinton-bashing contest aimed at energizing their party faithful.

"The competition inside the GOP for who's the most anti-Hillary is going to pay dividends," said Greg Strimple, a GOP pollster and consultant who is not working with any presidential campaign. "Looking for that piece of anti-Hillary energy is what you're seeing right now."

The attacks have come during the GOP debates, on the stump, in television interviews, and in campaign commercials traditionally reserved for criticism of primary-season rivals.

In an ad unveiled yesterday, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) again criticizes Clinton for seeking $1 million for a Woodstock museum. An ad from former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney airing now in New Hampshire slams her for having "not run a corner store" and adds: "She hasn't run a state. . . . She has never run anything."

In the first five GOP debates, stretching from early May to late September, the candidates and the moderators mentioned Clinton's name eight times. During the first October debate, she came up 13 times. And at the Oct. 21 debate, she was the subject of conversation 29 times.

"You know, it's interesting, the most, I guess, wonderful reaction we've had in this entire room is when Hillary's name is mentioned," noted former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee that night. "It gets louder than an Aerosmith concert."

With less than two months until voting begins, the Democratic front-runner has become a target for rivals in her own party as well, prompting her husband, the former president, to accuse them of "Swift boat"-style piling-on during the latest debate.

One moment, Giuliani is sarcastically mocking Clinton for her wavering answer on whether illegal immigrants should get driver's licenses. "First, put up your hands and tell me what you think, and then I'll tell you what I think," he said last week, mimicking Clinton. "I'm for it. I'm against it. I'm for it and against it. And I want to be your president."

At Halloween, Romney found his inner comedian, describing "Hillary's House of Horrors" and joking -- sort of -- that "you go in one room, she wants to raise your taxes. You go in another room and she wants to have government taking over health care."

McCain promised that "the debate that I have between me and her will be based on national security, on fiscal conservatism, and on social conservatism. It will be a respectful debate." But he didn't hesitate to skewer her in his ad blasting the Woodstock earmark.


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