The Source's Exciting Hillary Panel

Is she running--or just listening? And if she's listening, does Hillary Rodham Clinton hear that giant kvetching sound? The still- unannounced candidate, who once was supposed to glide into a Senate seat over New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's prostrate body, has been taking some knocks lately from fellow Democrats and plummeting poll numbers. Which makes us wonder: Is she really in the race, or is she trifling with the voters? Why hasn't she announced? Is it too late to change her mind? The Source consulted some world-class kibitzers: cyber-pundit Mickey Kaus, presidential sort-of contender Donald Trump, former New York governor Mario Cuomo, talking head and ex-Clinton aide George Stephanopoulos and former New York City mayor Ed Koch.

* Kaus: "She's done more than put her toe in the water--she's taken the full mud bath, and she can't get out without losing a lot of face. Once she was perceived as a great candidate. Now it seems clear that she's humorless and has a political deaf ear. By not announcing, she seems to be trying to reserve all her options. That's what's so annoying about her. She never says anything that's not absolutely necessary for her to say. Her words are always overcalculated and embalmed in strategy and euphemism."

* Trump: "I think she may feel a little differently than she felt four months ago. New York is a tough place, and Rudy has been the best mayor New York City has ever had. If she gets out now, she'll take a hit for one day and then a week later everybody will forget about it. It would be a lot better than running and losing. By the way, she's a fine woman--a very fine woman. . . . What I mean is, she's a fine person."

* Stephanopoulos: "It's been a dismal fall--but better this November than next November. Is there anybody who thinks she's not running? Whether she decides not to run now or she formally withdraws, it's a distinction without a difference. Either way, it beats losing."

* Cuomo: "My gut tells me she's running. I can't think of a rationale that would make the case for her not to run at this point. She has never said anything or done anything to indicate she wouldn't run. But she has not yet made the case for running--and that case is very important." What about Housing and Urban Development Secretary Andrew Cuomo running instead? "Now you're talking about something I can sink my teeth into!"

* Koch: "I believe she must run. Otherwise, she will look silly." Okay, put your money where your mouth is and bet us $5 that she'll run! "Well, I'm not one for betting, but, sure, I'll bet you five bucks. Better yet, let's bet dinner. I say she runs, you say she doesn't."

It's a deal.


* We hear that three of Ronald Reagan's children--Michael, Patti and Ron--are devastated by a National Enquirer expose that relies on an interview with Nancy Reagan's former press secretary, Elaine Crispin, among other confidants, to accuse them of neglecting the 88-year-old ex-president, who suffers from Alzheimer's disease. "Nancy Reagan Tragedy: Greedy Kids Abuse Dying Prez," shrieks the headline. Patti Davis, 47, who spent much of the weekend sobbing over the charges, declined to respond to them directly but told us yesterday: "I have asked my attorney to look at it and the way the word 'abuse' is used, not only on the cover but also about 35,000 times in every other sentence. That's a pretty heavy charge. We're being accused of elderly abuse. The last time I checked, that was a crime in most states in this country--in every state, actually."

* Hip-hop gospel star Kirk Franklin has canceled his "A Soulful Celebration" concert tour, including the Dec. 4 show at US Airways Arena, because of poor ticket sales. "We will take a hit," promoter Bill Washington told The Post's Hamil R. Harris yesterday. "We have spent almost $30,000 in advertising for the show. We struggle to make gospel work because it is very dear to our hearts."

* George Washington University's Stephen Joel Trachtenberg is No. 9 on the Chronicle of Higher Education's list of college presidents who earned the highest pay in 1997-98. His salary: $404,014.

* White House junket news: Our spies at the weekend's Florence Summit, attended by President Clinton and other world leaders, caught summit architect Sidney Blumenthal taking a beauty nap at one of the sessions. And at last night's state dinner in Sofia, Bulgarian President Petar Stoyanov used his toast to read a passage from "Leaves of Grass"--the Walt Whitman book that Clinton famously presented to old flame Monica Lewinsky. Today Clinton ventures to Kosovo, where we hope no one will quote from the Starr Report.