New York braces itself for Hillary

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The Independent Online
THE MOST important political signal of the week is being anxiously awaited by pundits across the United States. What they are eagerly expecting is an eloquent silence from the First Lady, Hillary Rodham Clinton, that may telegraph her decision to move on to the political stage in her own right.

Mrs Clinton has been on holiday in Florida with the President, preparing for a visit to New York on Wednesday where she will attend a series of meetings and fund-raising events. If she does not rule out running for the state's soon-to-be vacant Senate seat, her advisers say, she will probably take the plunge.

The US media has whipped itself into a frenzy, analysing her every move, speculating about her plans to move into the property market and predicting her holiday plans for later in the year.

The New York Times' magazine ran a long profile of her yesterday, in which she discussed the prospect of submitting to the slings and arrows of the local press and political opponents.

"It has crossed my mind," she said. "But the possibility of partisan or political attacks does not serve as a deterrent. That is not anything that would prevent me, after having been through what we've been through, from deciding to run for office."

If Mrs Clinton does not rule herself out in the next two or three weeks, she will form an exploratory committee and begin the arduous process of fund-raising and laying the political foundations of a campaign.

Much of that work has secretly already been under way, adding to the tension in the White House, which now has three ambitious politicians all plotting their next moves: the President, the Vice-President, Al Gore, who hopes to succeed him, and Mrs Clinton. An official has been delegated to handle their scheduling and fundraising conflicts, The Washington Post reported yesterday.

There seems little doubt that she is gearing up for a campaign. Advertising copywriters are being lined up; she has checked out accommodation and prepared for meetings with constituents across the state.

She told a television interviewer last week: "I do plan to live in New York no matter what I end up doing," triggering the inevitable question. "Sooner or later in New York, they're going to say, `Why are you still with this man?'"

"Oh, you know," said Mrs Clinton, "We've been together for, I guess, 28 years. We've been married, hmmm, we'll be married 24 years this year."

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