- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 25, 2003

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton said again yesterday that she doesn’t intend to be a candidate, but she called it imperative that a Democrat beat President Bush next year.

“I’m very happy doing what I’m doing. I’m very happy being senator from New York,” Mrs. Clinton said at a breakfast gathering with reporters. She repeatedly denied that she would run next year. Asked if her supporters might be able to persuade her, she replied, “No.”

She said Democrats must settle on someone who can beat Mr. Bush.

“I do have an overriding goal, and that is to help elect a Democratic president. I am convinced, totally, that four more years of this administration — unaccountable, no election at the end — would be an overwhelming setback for our country,” she said. “I will do everything I can to help elect whoever emerges from this process.”

Mrs. Clinton deflected repeated attempts to get her to say what it would take to change her mind.

“I have said the same thing now consistently for, I don’t know how many years — I guess four years — and have nothing to add to my continuing position that I’m not running.”

Mrs. Clinton nevertheless sounded very much like a candidate. She called Mr. Bush’s second round of tax cuts amid the Iraq war “incredibly irresponsible,” criticizing the president for the “misuse of science” on the environment and comparing the administration’s record on information-sharing to censorship in China.

She said poor planning in postwar Iraq is costing American lives: “We’re paying something of a price in lives and financial commitment.”

Mrs. Clinton stands by her vote to grant the president authority to go to war with Iraq. She said the intelligence she saw leading up to the war was consistent with intelligence from previous administrations and she checked out the information with trusted Clinton administration officials.

But just about everything the administration did to achieve that was flawed, she said. “To be so poorly prepared is just a shocking failure of leadership.”

She credits her husband, the former president, with some of the credit for the U.S. military’s strong performance during the war. She noted that after the 1991 Gulf war, Dick Cheney, who was defense secretary and is now vice president, said wars are won with the prior administration’s military, and therefore he should have written a thank-you note to Ronald Reagan.

“I don’t think he’s done that to my husband yet. I’d be happy to deliver it personally.”

Polls show that Mrs. Clinton, who is serving her first term as senator, would be the instant front-runner for the Democratic nomination if she enters the presidential race. Many Democrats and Republicans believe she is the Democratic Party’s best chance to beat Mr. Bush.

The senator has said she will serve her full first term, which ends in 2007. A poll from Marist College’s Institute for Public Opinion shows that 69 percent of New York voters, including 57 percent of Democrats, don’t want Mrs. Clinton to run for president in 2004.

Parallels to her husband — whose own run for president in 1992 broke his pledge to serve out his term as Arkansas governor — were not lost yesterday.

The breakfast was hosted by the Christian Science Monitor. The Clintons appeared at a similar Monitor breakfast in September 1991, just weeks before Mr. Clinton announced his presidential bid.

Earlier this year, Godfrey Sperling, the man who used to coordinate the breakfasts for the Monitor, wrote a column saying the Clintons considered the 1991 breakfast a test to see if they could survive a campaign.

Organizers took pains yesterday to point out that they first asked Mrs. Clinton to attend a breakfast more than a year ago and that the date was scheduled in May, long before the speculation intensified over the senator’s plans.

Fueling that speculation were reports that the Clintons strongly encouraged Wesley Clark to become the 10th Democrat in the field of presidential candidates. Mr. Clinton has called his wife and Mr. Clark the two “stars” of the party, and several pundits and politicians have argued that Mr. Clark is a place holder for Mrs. Clinton.

Mrs. Clinton yesterday called those theories “an absurd feat of imagination.”

“We are not supporting or endorsing any candidate,” she said.

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