Thursday, March 4, 2004

Do my eyes deceive me? The morning after Super Tuesday expired with a burst of fireworks enhaloing the hunk of granite that is John Kerry’s head, New York’s Sen. Hillary Clinton — still the most popular Democrat in the country — popped up at Washington’s Mayflower Hotel to give a major speech on trade and manufacturing, two burning issues during the Democrats’ primary season. What can this mean?

Several weeks back as Mr. Kerry emerged as the front-runner for the Democratic nomination, that veteran Clinton-watcher with the keen eye for political machinations, Dick Morris, announced Hillary had become a likely prospect as Mr. Kerry’s running mate.

Mr. Morris’ observation makes sense. Sen. Kerry of Massachusetts is a regional candidate. Hillary has national reach. She is the most popular Democratic candidate in the land. Owing to her feminism and to her cachet with the other building blocks of the Democratic coalition, she could, as Mr. Morris puts it, turn the presidential campaign into a “national crusade.” Moreover, with the vast financial resources she commands, she could be for Mr. Kerry’s campaign what his wife has been for Mr. Kerry’s lifestyle — a bonanza.

What is more, sources have told me Clinton loyalists have been calling Democrats around the country telling them to prevail on Mr. Kerry at least to invite Hillary to be on his ticket. Mr. Kerry needs help. For most of his senatorial career, he has been a loner, and the source of too many bizarre utterances. As recently as December, his candidacy was dead in the water.

Mr. Kerry has not been the consensus Democratic candidate. Rather, he is the candidate the consensus has settled on.

Hillary is at the center of the party. Some would say she sits atop it. The Clintons’ servitor, Terry McAuliffe, heads the Democratic National Committee. Her political action committees are prodigious fund-raising mechanisms. Another of her servitors, Harold Ickes, controls financial honey pots with reserves of more than $100 million. Thus, Hillary is the most likely source of prestige and funding for the impecunious Mr. Kerry.

More recently, sources tell me long-time Clinton supporters including those in the now-defunct Clark campaign have been told to sit tight and await unfolding events as though “something big” is about to happen.

And Hillary’s fund-raising operations have curiously slowed. She has been the top Democratic fund-raising draw since 2000. But three months ago her fund-raising appearances seemingly fell off. In the last election cycle, she did four to five fund-raisers a week. Now she is down to one or two.

With her early morning speech just after Super Tuesday, she may have been approaching that “something big” her old supporters have been promised. In addressing trade and manufacturing at the Mayflower Wednesday, she confronted two staples of Ralph Nader’s song and dance, a song and dance that will be heard many times as his third-party candidacy gets under way.

Mr. Nader’s candidacy could become a political “giant sucking sound” of votes away from Mr. Kerry. At the Mayflower, Hillary demonstrated her political value to Mr. Kerry as a neutralizer of Mr. Nader.

It makes perfect sense for Hillary to get into the Democratic presidential action now. She has enormous power. And as with all political power, if you do not use it you run the risk you might lose it. Running as vice-presidential candidate on a Kerry ticket might not doom her to second fiddle for eight years. The trial might last only eight months, and if the valiant ticket goes down to the hellish George W. Bush, she would be seen as the loyalest of loyal Democrats, a Joan of Arc to her party. Her rights on the presidential nomination in 2008 would be secure.

Then too, some shocking revelations might surface about Senator John Pierre Kerry before Convention time. Things like that have happened before in this Democratic race. Ask Dr. Howard Dean. Come to think of it, ask Mr. Kerry. In that event, Hillary, the loyalest of the loyal, would be there to lift the party from chaos and against the Forces of Darkness. Whatever transpires, the Clintons are active again.

R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. is editor in chief of the American Spectator, a contributing editor to the New York Sun, and an adjunct Fellow at the Hudson Institute. His book “Madame Hillary: The Dark Road to the White House” has just been published by Regnery Publishing.

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