- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 3, 2006

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — As Bill and Hillary Clinton shook hands, signed autographs and visited a famous sausage stand at the state fair Friday, they focused on Mrs. Clinton’s Senate re-election and tried to steer clear of the question on most minds — will she run for president in 2008?

But, it was unavoidable.

At a fairground luncheon with supporters that Mrs. Clinton’s Senate re-election campaign hosted, laughter erupted during prayer when Father John F. Hogan asked God for “continued blessings on her work, her future,” then dramatically added “wherever that may lead.”

As the Clintons worked the crowd on their way to Gianelli’s sausage stand, a man repeatedly yelled, “Clintons back in the White House.”

Mrs. Clinton has strong support in New York state, where she is expected to cruise to a second Senate term. An issue beginning to dog her, however, is the war in Iraq, and some observers say it will only get worse as 2008 nears.

“She has to move to the left on the war,” said John Zogby, president of an international polling firm. She “risks losing a chunk” of the liberal vote if she doesn’t.

With more than 80 percent of Democrats stridently opposing the war, along with a small but growing percentage of Republicans, the debate is starting to shift, he said, adding that an anti-war candidate with a plan to end Iraq occupation could do well in 2008.

Mrs. Clinton has walked a fine line on the issue. She voted for the use of force in 2002, but has been critical of its execution. She supported a Democratic proposal to start a phased redeployment of troops from Iraq this year, but she hasn’t given in to the party’s strong anti-war sentiment that calls for an immediate troop pullout.

Her boldest move came last month when she called for the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. That was shortly before Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut lost his Democratic primary to anti-war challenger Ned Lamont.

Mrs. Clinton faces her own primary challenge from little-known labor organizer and writer Jonathan Tasini, who also campaigned at the state fair. One of his supporters, dressed in a chicken suit, followed the Clintons demanding a debate.

Mrs. Clinton is still predicted to win by a landslide — a Marist poll in mid-August had her beating Mr. Tasini 80 percent to 15 percent.

But his presence foreshadows the party fight expected after the midterm elections.

“The anti-war crowd is going to have no choice than to bang on her record — to go after her,” said Republican strategist Scott Reed. “They’ve all been emboldened by this Lamont exercise.”

When asked Friday about the war, Mrs. Clinton said, “I’ve been a constant and consistent critic. I’ve also tried to work within the fact that this president has made decisions and a series of strategic blunders. … I have a situation that I’m trying to figure out how we’re going to deal with.”

Leaning against a pickup truck on display at the fair, the anti-war Mr. Tasini said, “People are furious about the war. It’s the precise reason she doesn’t want to debate me. She’s obfuscating where she stands on the war.”

He pointed to a poll of Moveon.org members released Friday that found 56 percent supporting Mrs. Clinton and 44 percent supporting him. The liberal group isn’t endorsing either candidate.

Political analysts from both parties say Mrs. Clinton is escaping Mr. Lieberman’s fate in the primary for several reasons, including that she’s simply not as supportive of the war as the Connecticut Democrat. Also, they note, Mr. Lamont had millions of his own dollars to get his message out, something Mr. Tasini lacks.

As analysts debate the future, many at the fair sang Mrs. Clinton’s praises in a state where she has made inroads even with upstate conservatives by helping them with flood relief, preventing closure of government facilities and assisting small businesses.

“We’re thrilled with her,” said Anne Weidman, a 70-year-old Red Cross worker from the rural, conservative Wyoming County.

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