An anything-but-typical freshman, she surprised skeptics with how well she fit in to a chamber where reputations are usually built over decades. She didn’t big-foot colleagues. A junior senator in the minority party, she put her head down and went to work.
She sought out the longest-serving senator in history, West Virginia’s Robert C. Byrd, to receive a tutorial on the art of legislating. She waited her turn to speak, and when she did, it was clear she had done her homework. She was seen as a serious legislator who tended to her state’s interests and was re-elected in 2006 in a cakewalk.
But there is no blockbuster legislation with her name on it. No soaring oratory still rings in the ears.
Citing the “cumbersome” rules under which the Senate operates, Mrs. Clinton told an Associated Press reporter last year, “I’m somebody who just gets up every day and tries to push that decision a little bit further.”
For all her work, she brought baggage to the Senate that could not be shed.
Mrs. Clinton points to her role in putting together $20 billion in aid for New York after the September 11 attacks as one of her greatest Senate achievements. But when the deal was in danger of falling apart, Mrs. Clinton stepped aside during final negotiations and waited outside the office of then-House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, for fear her presence would inflame the opposition.
“She surprised people,” Mr. Daschle said. “There was a lot of skepticism among many of her colleagues about the degree to which she would be a team player. … She was sensitive to that concern and tried to address it.”
Mrs. Clinton built unexpected alliances with Republicans. Former Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, a moderate who was dean of New York’s Republican delegation, remembers Mrs. Clinton’s inviting herself over to discuss common goals shortly after she took office in 2001.
“You have to understand the significance of that,” he said. “No senator, even the most junior senator of the minority party, ever comes over to the House side for an initial meeting with a House member, no matter how influential. They summon a House member to the upper body.”
The two worked together to block a Pentagon proposal to close a military installation in Rome, N.Y. Saving the jobs at Rome and another upstate military base are often cited by Mrs. Clinton as evidence of her effectiveness as a senator.
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina remembers working with Mrs. Clinton for three years to provide better medical coverage to members of the National Guard and Reserve serving in Iraq. The two used their odd-couple pairing to push toward an eventual legislative win.
“Obviously, being former first lady, she draws a lot of attention,” Mr. Graham said. “She’s very good at making sure people don’t get lost in the shuffle.”