- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 20, 2013

A slow August in political news has created a vacuum that the press and pundits are filling with Clinton-watch: the guessing game as to whether Hillary Rodham Clinton is running for president in 2016, when she might announce and what effect her proto-campaign is having on President Obama’s ability to govern.

Despite her attempts to keep a low profile, Mrs. Clinton has remained in the headlines — most recently when scandal-plagued former Rep. Anthony D. Weiner said his wife, Huma Abedin, would play a role in Mrs. Clinton’s 2016 campaign.

Mrs. Clinton’s name also hung over the Republican National Committee meeting last week as delegates voted to ban networks that air pro-Clinton programming from hosting GOP presidential primary debates.

All of it has contributed to a deluge of media coverage for Mrs. Clinton during the dog days of summer.

“Not only is this blanket media coverage ridiculous, but it is actually damaging to Clinton,” said Larry J. Sabato, a professor at the University of Virginia and author of “Feeding Frenzy: Attack Journalism and American Politics.” “The storyline is bound to change several times before 2016. This may set a new standard for peaking too soon.”

Political talk shows last weekend featured discussions about the growing speculation over a Clinton candidacy.

The New Republic has posted an article questioning whether Mrs. Clinton’s campaign might be stopped by another force: her death. After looking at demographic profiles for a 65-year-old woman, they concluded that she likely would last through the election.

Mr. Weiner, a mayoral candidate in New York, helped spark the conversation last week when he said he knows the role his wife will have in Mrs. Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.

“I do,” he said at a Buzzfeed-sponsored forum.

The comments sparked a barrage of headlines and prompted the Clinton team to say it had no clue what Mr. Weiner was talking about, which generated more headlines.

The RNC was adopting a resolution that would bar CNN and NBC from hosting Republican primary debates in 2016 if the networks push forward with plans to a run documentary and a miniseries about the former first lady.

“Hillary Clinton is likely to run for president in 2016, and CNN and NBC have both announced programming that amounts to little more than extended commercials promoting former Secretary Clinton,” the resolution said. “These programming decisions are an attempt to show political favoritism and put a thumb on the scales for the next presidential election.”

Mrs. Clinton’s outsized status among the field of potential Democrats fuels the interest, said Mark McKinnon, a consultant who worked for former President George W. Bush.

“The taller she stands politically, the harder the wind blows,” he said. “It comes with being a front-runner in the day of modern media and politics.”

Craig Shirley, a biographer of former President Ronald Reagan, said the growing speculation about Mrs. Clinton’s future could cause Mr. Obama some heartburn as the 2014 and 2016 elections approach.

“It potentially is a headache for Obama because it does create a separate sphere of influence in the Democratic Party,” Mr. Shirley said. “They want the ability to move away from Obama if he becomes a millstone around their necks in the primaries.”

Mr. Sabato said, “The more the media and public focus on ‘16, the more it’s a distraction for Obama, who doesn’t want to be written off less than a year into his new term.”

Democratic National Committee spokesman Mo Elleithee, who was a spokesman for Mrs. Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign, disagrees.

“I think we are all working toward the same goals,” Mr. Elleithee said. “I think there is a lot of energy behind the president’s agenda, whether it is passing comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship, whether it is dealing with the budget and the looming showdown over that in the fall, or whether it is enrolling more people in health care.”

Mrs. Clinton has lived in the national spotlight since her husband, Bill Clinton, took over the White House in 1993.

In that first term, she ran a task force on health care, leading to a failed effort in Congress to overhaul the insurance system. Then she found herself in the middle of a political soap opera when Mr. Clinton’s sexual relationship with 22-year-old White House intern Monica Lewinsky was exposed.

After leaving the White House, Mrs. Clinton won a U.S. Senate seat in New York. She ran for the presidency in 2008 but lost the Democratic nomination to fellow Sen. Barack Obama.

In 2009, she agreed to serve as Mr. Obama’s secretary of state. She left the post this year just as questions were heating up over the Sept. 11 attack on a U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, that led to the deaths of the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans.

Mrs. Clinton has since hit the lecture circuit — her fee is $200,000 per speech — to speak out on social issues, immigration and health care. But she remains noncommittal on whether she will run.

With more than 1,170 days left before the 2016 election, polls show that Mrs. Clinton is the clear favorite to win the Democratic nomination.

History, though, might not be on her side. Mr. Shirley said Democrats have nominated the early front-runner in non-incumbent years just once since 1956, when Adlai Stevenson II was tapped as the party’s standard-bearer. It happened in 1984 with former Vice President Walter F. Mondale.

• Seth McLaughlin can be reached at smclaughlin@washingtontimes.com.

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