- The Washington Times - Friday, August 29, 2003

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton yesterday ruled out running for president in 2004 as she sought to stymie rising speculation she might seek the Democratic Party’s nomination after all.

“I am absolutely ruling it out,” the junior senator from New York said, according to the Associated Press, during a visit to the New York State Fair in Syracuse.

Faltering poll numbers from President Bush have left many Democrats scrambling to put their best candidate forward — and for many, the answer is Mrs. Clinton. Also fueling speculation are reports that she and her advisers — including her pollsters, fund-raisers and her husband, former President Bill Clinton — will meet soon to discuss her prospects.

But some political observers said rather than running in 2004, they expect what she’ll really be discussing is what supporting role to play in the election.

“She is going to be a force in this election whether she’s a candidate or not,” said Morris Reid, a political consultant and a former official in the Clinton Administration’s Commerce Department.

“I think it’s prudent for her to sit down and discuss with her advisers what’s going on with the current crop of candidates,” he said. “Hillary is still the 800-pound gorilla.”

Mrs. Clinton has won good reviews from Republicans and Democrats for her first few years of work in the Senate and Jeffrey Plaut, who works with the Democratic firm Global Strategy Group in New York, said remaining in that position leaves her well positioned.

“I think the political view is she’s been tremendously strong and that she will be a very strong candidate to run in the future, but that’s not going to happen in 2004,” he said.

“I think she’s a formidable Democratic player, but it’s very late in the cycle,” he said. “The serious candidates are up with television advertisements and making their case, so she would be walking off the bench in kind of the seventh inning.”

For her part, Mrs. Clinton has repeatedly said she will honor her pledge to serve out her full first term, which ends in early 2007.

Mrs. Clinton’s husband broke his own promise to serve out his term as Arkansas governor when he announced he would seek the presidency in 1992. But Democrats said they expect Mrs. Clinton to make good on her word — not least because finishing the term gives her her own record to run on later.

“I think it’s important for her to establish her own being,” Mr. Reid said. “It is important for Hillary Clinton to make her own history separate and apart from Bill Clinton, and being re-elected to the Senate will give her that stamp that she, Hillary Clinton, did something meaningful.”

But while Democrats are ready to accept Mrs. Clinton’s statement, some Republicans say they believe she will still consider running this year.

Michael McKenna, a Republican strategist in Washington, said the allure of another campaign against a President Bush is probably strong for the Clintons.

“In a way, I know some people in her household must be thinking this is the same moment in history — ‘We have a bunch of potential Democratic nominees who have no hope of winning against this guy. Why not us?’ ” Mr. McKenna said. “That kind of clouds your thinking. Is it really the same moment in history, is it the same fact pattern, is this the same [as 1992]? I think if you look at it objectively it’s not the same.”

Other observers point out that if Mrs. Clinton doesn’t run and another Democrat does beat Mr. Bush, that person would be the incumbent in 2008. Democrats said they cannot see Mrs. Clinton challenging a sitting Democratic president, which means she would have to wait until 2012.

Nine candidates are running for the nomination, and the first primary is in the District of Columbia in January, which would not leave much time for a new candidate to set up a campaign for 2004.

But most political observers believe Mrs. Clinton would be the instant front-runner for the nomination, though maybe at some political cost.

“She’s not going to get a second bite at the apple,” Mr. McKenna said. “[If] she gets in now, she’ll burn every chit she has in the Democratic party to clear these people out of there.”

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