If any single group is the presumed hard core of Hillary Rodham Clinton's New York constituency, it is women: professional women, women proud of her lofty stature, women who sympathize with her marital humiliation, or women just sick of politics as a man's game.
Chris Frind sounds like one such woman. She likes Hillary Clinton. When she thinks of her, she thinks of strength. "Boy, does she have guts," says Frind. "She's out there to fight and she wants [the New York Senate seat] and I give her credit for wanting it."
But Frind, a member of the Geneva Women's Club here in traditionally conservative upstate New York, says she has qualms about getting "the whole package" if she votes for Clinton. That package includes President Clinton, the Clinton marriage and the scandalous events that Frind delicately calls "what has gone on."
"The moral issues are in the way," says Frind. "She's going to lead her own life, but he's still her husband."
Frind's comments exemplify the kind of reservations many women here hold as Clinton prepares to formally announce her candidacy next month. Though they have been a natural constituency for many Democratic candidates in New York, women have not embraced Clinton's Senate bid with the enthusiasm politicians say she needs to prevail in her race against New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani (R). Clinton has failed to muster even a majority of women in public opinion polls taken since she announced her exploratory candidacy last summer, and surveys show that her support among female voters fell over the last year.
Interviews with voters and pollsters here suggest a mix of reasons for her problems: To some, she is a valiant figure who is fighting for what's right and who ought to be given her due now that her wayward husband is about to leave office. To others, she is a power-hungry and amoral opportunist who has come to New York to run just because she can. Between these extremes, there is feminist disappointment, confusion about her political agenda and the familiar complaint that she is a carpetbagger. Only last week did Clinton move into her new New York home in Chappaqua, north of New York City.
The weak support among female voters is part of a broader problem for Clinton, a first-time candidate who also has not clicked so far with Jewish voters, Catholics and other key elements of traditional Democratic coalitions in New York. "If you lose among people with a predisposition to your party, you're in trouble to start," said Ester Fuchs, a political science professor at Columbia University and Barnard College.
Mark Penn, who has been the president's pollster and is now serving in that role for Hillary Clinton, said it is not meaningful to compare current polls with those from a year ago that show Clinton getting higher support from women, because the political context was so different. And he noted that polls still show Clinton doing better with women than men, typically with a 12-point difference.
Recent polls show "she's close enough to a majority" of women, Penn said, "and when you apportion the undecideds she would be above a majority if the election were held today." He added: "She's been conducting a listening tour. She hasn't announced yet. She's been exploring the issues. I think she's going to do substantially better on Election Day with women."
The possibility that Clinton will have an opportunity to make inroads upstate was evident in the words of Amelia Simon, a Republican, who sat with Frind and several others from the Geneva Women's Club to express their views on Clinton's candidacy.
Simon said she is not concerned that Clinton has just moved to New York. What concerns her is getting things done for her state. "This lady has so many connections throughout our country and to the world, so I think if she wants to bring anything like industry, I think she's the one," said Simon, who went on to defend Clinton: "They started picking on her when she walked down Pennsylvania Avenue the day of the  inauguration. They talked about her hat, her hairdo. I mean they did not let up on the woman. . . . I admire her. She does not go down in defeat."
But Clinton, many voters say, has yet to clearly and convincingly state why she is running and is dogged by questions about her motives.
"I like her. I think she's a very smart lady, a really, really smart lady," said a female midtown Manhattan advertising executive, a Democrat who does not plan to vote for Clinton and did not want to be quoted by name. "But she's never really come clear as to why she picked New York. . . . I'm just curious." In addition, the executive said, "She hasn't really showed anything of why we should vote for her, other than that she's first lady."
Susan Jacoby, a New York writer, said Clinton is "a candidate because she's the wife of Bill Clinton." But Jacoby also said she will vote for Clinton as her Democratic duty.
A December poll by Quinnipiac College of Hamden, Conn., put the race at 46 percent for Giuliani and 42 percent for Clinton. The same poll showed 47 percent of women support Clinton, compared with 41 percent of men. Another poll, from the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., has Clinton and Giuliani tied among women at 44 percent. A year ago, Marist had her female support at 58 percent to Giuliani's 34 percent.
Clinton's support among minority women is strong, but her support among white women has fallen dramatically over the last year from 51 percent to 35 percent, according to Marist. Giuliani's support among white women has risen from 41 percent to 52 percent. Among Democratic women, Clinton's backing has fallen from 81 percent to 66 percent over the past year.
Being a first lady is a double-edged sword for Clinton: She is well known as a celebrity, but she is not known in her own political right.
"She's coming in as first lady, so she needs to convince people that she brings something to the table that she didn't get from Bill," said political scientist Fuchs. "So it's sort of like: Who are you?"
Then, Fuchs said, there are issues emanating from the infidelity scandal that led to her husband's near-removal from office. Fuchs calls these the "squishy issues," such as " 'I just don't like her: She stayed with him.' Or, 'I like her: She stayed with him.' She has to deal with that."
Jacoby finds that many women, particularly feminists, feel uneasy with Clinton's image as the long-suffering wife. "There's tremendous criticism of her for in effect being a doormat. . . . I think that aspect of her makes a lot of women uneasy because, frankly, women see a lot of themselves in her," said Jacoby, referring to compromises, including the silent acceptance of infidelity, that women sometimes make in their lives, absent the fanfare that surrounded Clinton.
Jane Twyon is disappointed in Clinton for a different kind of feminist reason. Twyon, an advertising consultant in New York City, said she believes in women's advancement so much that she'll usually vote for almost any female candidate. But she said she will be putting aside that practice come November, "and I feel pretty strongly about this."
"When she came into office as the wife of the president, I think we--all women--had high hopes," Twyon said of Clinton. "She was highly educated, bright, aggressive, a working woman, and I felt she was going to make a difference."
But she didn't, Twyon said. Sure, her effort to push through a broad health care reform package resulted in failure and may have made her and her husband gun shy about pushing her out front too much. "But she could have done several smaller things. She should have left a legacy. She had the opportunity, she had the background, more than we've had in other president's wives," she said.
Twyon, who voted for President Clinton but also for Giuliani, did not mention Hillary Clinton's strong role in pushing for the Family and Medical Leave Act and other legislation benefiting families and children that some other women do consider part of Clinton's legacy.
CAPTION: Hillary Rodham Clinton comments at an Oyster Bay youth club last month, part of a "listening tour" of New York before her 2000 Senate race.