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Commentary: Hillary Shows Off Centrist Stripes and Hopes For 2008

By Lee Cullum, KERA 90.1 commentator

Dallas, TX –

Hillary Rodham Clinton returned to Renaissance Weekend in Charleston, South Carolina this New Year's for the first time since running for the Senate. The annual gathering of 12-hundred people, declared to be Bill Clinton's national base, greeted her ecstatically at an interview program she did one night at 10:00.

"I was a little shocked to be asked to speak at 10:00," she said. "I thought you must have the wrong Clinton." Indeed, it was recalled that the senator's husband used to hold forth on Social Security at 11:30 p.m. on New Year's Eve to anybody who would listen.

There were plenty of listeners for Hillary Clinton this year, even at the late hour, and what she demonstrated was pure star power. She had humor. She had gravitas. She had a sure sense of where the Democratic Party needs to go to redeem itself.

Asked about faith and politics, she described herself as a "praying person" from childhood. "But if I hadn't been a praying person," she explained, "I certainly would have become one when I landed at the White House." With seriousness as well as wit she firmly established herself as a woman of the religious mainstream, which of course she always was but people like to forget that.

On choice for women she admitted to a bit of a "muddle," wanting, as her husband did, for abortions to be "legal, safe and rare." She told of working as First Lady with Mother Teresa on programs for pregnancy and adoption. They would discuss abortion and Ms. Clinton would ask how a law against it ever could be enforced. "Do you prosecute the woman?" she wondered. Or the doctor? She also pointed out that the number of abortions went down during her husband's presidency because of practical, realistic education, but have gone back up again during the tenure of George W. Bush. She noted too that she had voted for parental notification with judicial waivers.

The is a reasonable, centrist position from a politician who's clearly taking her stand in the sane center of the spectrum, having voted, after all, to go to war in Iraq but deploring now the lack of preparation for the aftermath.

Some say a candidate from a state as blue as New York cannot win the White House in 2008. But Senator Clinton pointed out that 40 counties in that state were red last November while 62 were blue. "Every state is red and blue," she insisted. "And everybody is red and blue."

What a Democrat must do to prevail four years from now is hold the Kerry states, including New Hampshire, win back Iowa and New Mexico from the Republicans and take one red state with at least six electoral votes. Anything in the South would work except West Virginia, which only has five votes. Bill Clinton carried Arkansas, Tennessee and Louisiana twice and Georgia in 1992. Could Hillary pick up one of them? I believe she could.

A lot of Democrats are counting her out at the moment except for reelection to the Senate in 2006. They're forgetting the enormous nostalgia many Americans feel for the Clinton years. They're also failing to notice that she is carefully crafting a record in the Senate designed to capture the middle ground. Anybody who saw her shaking hands at midnight in a huge ballroom and patiently posing for pictures with everyone who wanted them should understand that this is a national leader who can go the full distance. Indeed she already has.


Lee Cullum is a contributor to the Dallas Morning News and to KERA. If you have opinions or rebuttals about this commentary, call (214) 740-9338 or email us.