AMERICAN ELECTIONS: Dignity of First Lady helped win the day

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The Independent Online
HER HUSBAND'S White House dalliance may have been the making of Hillary Clinton's political career. From the moment she took the decision to "stand by her man" after his 17 August admission that he had deceived "even my wife" over the Monica Lewinsky affair, Hillary was at his side. At first, when they left as a family, in somewhat awkward formation, for their summer holiday on Martha's Vineyard, her solidarity seemed little more than a formality.

Within two weeks, however, she was introducing her husband as his political seconder at fund-raising dinners, and receiving rousing applause herself. When it appeared in September that the Democrats were headed for catastrophic losses in this week's elections, Mrs Clinton set out on the campaign trail, crossing the country repeatedly, drumming up funds for the cash- strapped campaign and galvanising support for Democrats whose seats seemed threatened.

With her husband under a cloud and perceived by some candidates as an electoral liability, Mrs Clinton emerged as the party's most effective campaigner, welcomed from coast to coast. Her dignity in adversity was admired and respected. Her confidence and effectiveness as a political speaker, which had been held in check for much of her husband's presidency, surprised many.

The common knowledge of her husband's philandering, along with all the sordid details of the Lewinsky affair, brought widespread sympathy, especially from women. Any difficulties she might have had during Mr Clinton's first presidential campaign in reaching older and non-professional women, who appeared to resent her career, melted away, as these women came to regard a betrayed wife rescuing her family as a soulmate. Resentment from men, who had asked during Mr Clinton's first campaign and his first two years in office who would really be wearing the trousers in the White House, also vanished: the older, scorned woman was no threat.

Her only failure? Despite three campaign trips to her home state of Illinois to support the embattled Carol Moseley-Braun, the first black woman to be elected to the Senate, that seat could not be saved. Mrs Clinton's campaigning, however, may stand her in good stead for a political career of her own, should she want it.

With two years as First Lady still ahead, she is keeping any ambitions scrupulously out of the domestic political arena, allowing speculation about an international, perhaps a United Nations post, in future. But in the latter stages of the campaign, she was consistently greeted with cries of "Stand! Stand!" from the crowd. Perhaps the presidency would not be to her taste, but a Senate seat, perhaps the one just lost in Chicago to the Republicans, would be an eminently realistic goal.