Raising Hill

By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  September 12, 2007

And in mid 1999, before George W. Bush gained his aura, rumors of cocaine use and other “youthful indiscretions” followed him everywhere. Those stories died out, temporarily, after autumn polls showed him dominating the Republican field — and returned when John McCain made it a race again in early 2000.

So far, there seems to be much more interest in Thompson’s work habits, Giuliani’s wife, and Mitt Romney’s religion than in Clinton’s connection to Hsu.

Nailing it down
Democrats fear, however, that Hsu symbolizes the flaws that don’t hurt Clinton among Democrats, but could kill her hopes of winning the votes of many Independents and moderate Republicans, whom she’ll need to win in November 2008. Without a strong challenge, that is, Clinton may get a primary-election pass on issues that are likely to surface in the general election, including campaign-fundraising improprieties, terrorism failings of her husband’s presidential administration, Filegate, Travelgate, and Whitewater.

To put it another way, Clinton’s inevitability may trump her unelectability.

“I’m sure in the RNC [Republican National Committee] they’ve got a roomful of opposition research on her,” says a New Hampshire staffer for another Democratic candidate.

There is also the uncomfortable Bill factor — that is, the fact that Clinton stood by her man as all of America was introduced to a seemingly endless parade of women he allegedly slept with, pawed at, or worse — not just Monica Lewinsky, but Juanita Broaddrick, Sally Perdue, Elizabeth Ward Gracen, Gennifer Flowers, Paula Jones, and Kathleen Willey.

Although the effect on Clinton’s image is hard to predict, it’s hard to imagine any male candidate surviving such public and repeated infidelity.

Clinton is staying far from such topics, and instead trying to conquer the one piece of that litany of problems she feels she can control: her icy image.

She has done that through non-stop campaign appearances, including the AARP speech in Boston, where people who walk in with preconceived, media-driven ideas about her find a personable, smart, easy-going candidate.

“She won [the sense of inevitability] back, not as a show horse, not by acting like a prima donna, but by going out and winning people over,” says one highly respected New Hampshire Democrat who is supporting Clinton. “People are coming out of events, big or small, saying, ‘She isn’t at all what I thought she’d be like.’ ”

There is a lot to this, as even many of her detractors concede, and as this reporter has seen in person several times this year. That ability to change perceptions of her aloofness, one room at a time, goes a very long way in the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries. And after that, the nomination contest might be over.

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