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First lady's statement

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  • President: First lady would be "terrific" senator
  • Mrs. Clinton faces a decision
  • Clinton candidacy not implausible

  •   First Lady Cautious About a Campaign

    Hillary Rodham Clinton
    First lady Hillary Rodham Clinton announces resources to benefit victims of Hurricanes Mitch and Georges at the White House Tuesday. (AP)
    By John F. Harris
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Wednesday, February 17, 1999; Page A1

    First lady Hillary Rodham Clinton said yesterday she is "deeply gratified" that so many people have encouraged her to run for Senate in New York but cautioned that she has hardly had time to think about it, announcing that she will "give careful thought to a potential candidacy in order to reach a decision later this year."

    With speculation about her plans racing through political circles at a feverish pace, the first lady's words at once nudged the speculation along and sought to slow it down. The one-paragraph statement her office released yesterday was the first official acknowledgment from her that she takes seriously the idea that she might run for Senate next year. And a family friend said President Clinton, who Monday said he would support whatever she decided, is in fact enthusiastic. "He's all for it," this friend said.

    Associates said Hillary Clinton was concerned at how far ahead the speculation was from her own thinking, with some rumors indicating she would declare a candidacy within days. She has made no decision, one adviser said, and "does not have a timetable" for making one. A friend said that a decision was "months away," and that among the first lady's hesitations was her family's precarious financial situation, with legal debts of several million dollars.

    The rush of speculation was itself a reflection of how Hillary Clinton's candidacy would be like no other. As various advisers and Clinton political associates analyzed her options yesterday, they were not talking about concerns most potential candidates weigh, such as fund-raising potential or name recognition. Instead, they sought to divine her emotional state – something the first lady has always studiously tried to keep walled from public view.

    She'd love the job, say some intimates. A seat in the Senate would give her a platform from which to push her favored issues and establish a political independence that, for all her prominence as first lady, she could never have as a presidential spouse. The job, these associates believe, would offer a powerful psychic reward for supporting her husband during the pain he caused in their marriage and a triumph over their common political foes.

    She'll never do it, say other advisers who have worked closely over the years with the Clintons. After years of often unpleasant scrutiny during her White House tenure, Hillary Clinton is hardly ready to volunteer for the indignities that go with running for office in New York, with its raucously irreverent political culture and sharp-elbowed media. Besides, they say, becoming the junior senator from New York would as a practical matter be a demotion for a woman who already walks on a world stage.

    Most candidates start out yearning for a job and go through a series of nuts-and-bolts decisions about whether it is attainable, said Mandy Grunwald, a political consultant who is close to the first lady. Hillary Clinton, she said, is going through a different and more philosophical rumination: "What does she want to do in life? Where does she make a difference?"

    As she searches for an answer, the first lady has been reaching out to longtime friends and advisers. On Friday, she had lunch with Harold Ickes, former White House deputy chief of staff for her husband and a veteran of New York politics. Her office is scheduling meetings with Sens. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.), who is vacating the seat she might run for, and Robert G. Torricelli (N.J.), chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

    "She's a methodical person," said Marsha Berry, the first lady's press secretary. "She'll be talking with a full spectrum of people."

    During the interim, the spotlight is on her with new intensity. An auditorium in the Old Executive Office Building was packed yesterday with reporters not necessarily there to hear her announce U.S. hurricane aid for Central America. She ignored a question about a future candidacy with a wave.

    Some Clinton advisers say they believe Hillary Clinton has responded to the interest in a candidacy like much of the political world. She at first considered the idea a lark, then gradually awakened to the possibility it might be more serious.

    Associates say she has worried about family finances, but is reassured by the strong performance of a trust fund established to solicit donations, and that her husband's earning capacity is strong. Fiercely protective of her privacy and dignity, the first lady is now persuaded that the rough-and-tumble of New York politics could scarcely be any rougher than what she has been through in Washington. One friend said he considers it now more likely than not that she will run.

    Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), who has encouraged her candidacy, said he has left recent conversations with the first lady in no doubt that she is serious about the possibility.

    The first lady has no roots in New York, but the Empire State has over the years been welcoming to nationally known outsiders, including Robert F. Kennedy.

    Torricelli added that Hillary Clinton would hardly be the average senator, fighting for clout. "This is someone who will dominate a national debate," he said. "The lease in the White House is up, in January 2001 that platform disappears. This platform can be available . . . for the rest of her working life."

    Her possible candidacy was prompting comments from two other potential candidates: Rep. Nita M. Lowey (D-N.Y.) and New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani (R).

    "If Hillary Clinton announces a run for Senate, that would encourage the mayor to consider his candidacy for the Senate as well," a Giuliani spokeswoman told the Associated Press, adding that her candidacy would be "the singular biggest unifying force in the Republican Party."

    "If the first lady runs, I will support her enthusiastically," Lowey said in a statement. "In the meantime, I am moving forward and doing what I need to do to prepare for this race."

    Hillary Clinton said she, too, will stay busy in the interim: "I intend to continue to focus my attention on the issues central to the president's agenda and on which we have worked together for many years."

    © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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