Hillary on the stump, or just a book tour?

For those who might have thought the Clintons a spent force in American political life, think again.

The first shots have been fired in a skillful campaign to boost Hillary beyond the US Senate, and to rehabilitate Bill.

It may seem fanciful to imagine Hillary in the White House as president, and Bill and Seamus (successor to Buddy) there as first spouse and first dog, respectively, but it's pretty evident that it's at least crossed the minds of the two Clintons.

In her Sunday-night TV interview with Barbara Walters, Hillary said she "has no intention of running for the presidency," in 2004 or 2008. But that kind of denial is something that has been made at some time or another by almost everybody who, in fact, did run for the presidency. If President Bush's fly-boy arrival on an American aircraft carrier could be used as campaign fodder in his reelection bid, Sunday night's Hillary Clinton "Journey" from childhood, through college, through transition to Arkansas, to highs and lows in the White House, could just as well have been a presidential-campaign documentary.

She related her role as a concerned mother. She told of her fury as a betrayed wife, learning of her husband's sexual escapades, while adeptly drawing a veil around what she termed their "zone of privacy." She was at times funny, sometimes self-deprecatory. She told of forgiving her husband after a long period of anguish, but still finding him one of the most "interesting and energizing" men she had ever met, with whom she hoped to grow old. She did say she supported the two-term rule for the presidency.

Thus, in one stroke, she ruled out another presidential bid for him, while attempting to close an unhappy chapter of infidelity in their past that could clutter up any campaign that she might pursue.

For his part, Bill Clinton says he is not campaigning for anything. But as a retired president at a relatively young age, he is clearly restless and pines for the opportunity to utilize his considerable energy and political skills. At very least, he seeks rehabilitation after his scandalous behavior that so besmirched his presidency.

Their multimillion-dollar book contracts - $8 million for hers just published, and perhaps $12 million for his to be published next year - and a media blitz that includes a cover story in Time magazine, will further both of their political aims and ensure a continuing spotlight on the Clintons during the presidential-campaign season. This will not bring much cheer to the nine announced Democratic candidates - already scrambling, with limited success, for the public's attention - who perhaps face eclipse by a Clinton publicity campaign into next year.

For her first two years in the Senate, Mrs. Clinton kept a low, but workmanlike, profile - impressing fellow senators with her attention to the details of the legislative agenda while championing domestic causes close to her heart. She carefully skirted questions about aspirations for higher office. But aides and friends suggest that she now is seriously pondering the prospect of a candidacy for the presidency in 2008, assuming that Democrats have little chance of dislodging Mr. Bush in 2004.

Some have even suggested that if Bush should stumble, and the present lineup of Democratic hopefuls does not spawn a credible challenger, she might yet offer herself as a last-minute alternative in 2004. That seems unlikely. Bush's standing in the polls is not as high as it was at the end of the war in Iraq, but it remains strong, and he is seen as a forceful leader.

Mrs. Clinton would have to substantially improve her present standing with the electorate. An ABC News poll suggests that 32 percent of Americans feel strongly unfavorable about her compared with 15 percent who have a strongly favorable view of her.

In her Sunday interview, Mrs. Clinton conceded that she had come on too strong, too early in her first-lady role, and "could have explained herself better." That image of sharpness, along with her unsuccessful management of the healthcare issue, obviously lingers long with those who have an unfavorable impression of her. On the other hand, the image of a devoted mother, and a loyal wife betrayed by an unfaithful husband - who put her life together and went on to establish a political career in her own right - works to her advantage. It remains to be seen how this will play out over time.

John Hughes, editor and chief operating officer of the Deseret News, is a former editor of the Monitor.

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