Bill and Hillary are over. Long live Hillary and Bill

The Clintons
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The Independent US

It is one of those goose-bump moments in every transition of power in America: Marine One, the presidential helicopter, lifts off from the Mall in Washington DC to take the old First Family to retirement. On inauguration day this time, however, the shiny green machine will not need to go far.

It is one of those goose-bump moments in every transition of power in America: Marine One, the presidential helicopter, lifts off from the Mall in Washington DC to take the old First Family to retirement. On inauguration day this time, however, the shiny green machine will not need to go far.

The Clintons will be leaving the White House in January, but not leaving town. Indeed, one of the first tasks Bill and Hillary - sorry, Hillary and Bill - face is finding a new pied-à-terre in Washington. It won't be on Pennsylvania Avenue , but it will still be close to Capitol Hill.

Here we are again, trading rumours and gossip about the Clinton's living arrangements. (Surely, they will be looking for a Manhattan abode too, perhaps on Park Avenue.) And it is barely 24 hours since Mrs Clinton romped to her historic Senate race in New York, convincingly beating her Republican foe, Rick Lazio.

First, the facts: after 16 months of campaigning day after day almost without pause, the First Lady has achieved the extraordinary. With her win on Tuesday, she has become the first wife of a US president to be elected to serve. She is also the first woman ever in New York to capture statewide political office.

As the junior of New York's two US Senators, Mrs Clinton will in theory face far more grind than glamour once she takes her seat in the Senate chamber. Junior senators ordinarily have to content themselves with back-row seats at press conferences and positions on only one or two insignificant committees.

Ordinarily. But not when your name is Hillary. America, once it has recovered from the traumas of the presidential cliffhanger, can now conjure all the fantasies - and, for some, all the nightmares - it cares to about will happen next in the Clinton soap opera. What will Bill's role be after he quits in January? Is the Clinton era closing or is it just taking a new form? And will they separate or stay together?

The addiction they share to political power argues that this is a partnership that will not quickly be sundered. Will she be "Senator Billary", heavily influenced from behind the scenes by a husband? He was pivotal to her campaign, after all, nudging her all the way on how to connect to voters, coaching her on public speaking and shedding public tears for her when she embraced victory on Tuesday night.

This will be a business relationship, of course, as it probably has been for some years. If faithfulness has been a problem in the Clinton marriage, loyalty has not. It is just that the polarity will be switched. Bill Clinton will now have to learn to do what she has done for a quarter of a century, playing second fiddle and acting as supporter-in-chief.

"It'll be a role reversal between her and Bill," said Dick Morris, a former Clinton aide. "He'll run her campaigns and her life just as she ran his. She becomes his major project."

Mr Morris, now a columnist for the New York Post, agreed that those awaiting "Clinton Splitsville" headlines will be disappointed. But that doesn't mean they'll be sharing pillows. "The fact that he's going to stay with her as her manager and consultant doesn't mean they're going to remain actively married. They could have an absence of divorce but also the absence of marriage."

The Clintons are becoming an estate agent's dream. They have the house in Chappaqua, in upstate New York. A Manhattan apartment is a must, as is a place in DC. But Mr Clinton has signaled that he also wants to spend time in Little Rock, Arkansas, to oversee the building of his presidential library - a complex that may include a small apartment withenough comforts for a formercommander-in-chief.

Mr Clinton will be free to roam. Geographically, certainly, and maybe otherwise. He could still play his new part with Hillary and take that long-rumoured post at Oxford University, for instance, which would mean finding yet one more place to live. Mrs Clinton will have no such freedom. She demonstrated in her campaign a remarkable capacity to slog and doubtless will be similarly dedicated in office.

Forget the junior label. She will arrive in Washington as the new celebrity of the Democratic Party with influence and exposure far beyond what a newcomer could normally expect. She will be a monster fund-raiser for the Democrats, - and, as a hate-figure for conservatives, will equally help Republicans rake in the dollars.

Her election means that her husband's brand of New Democratic politics, which took the Party so far to the centre, will live on. Clintonism is dead, long live Clintonism. "Hillary ran explicitly as a New Democrat in New York," noted Al From, head of the Democratic Leadership Council. "I suspect when she gets to the Senate, she will be one of the people continuing to take the party in the direction he started."

But Mrs Clinton may break free from her husband, politically speaking, more than some expect. Her instincts and pedigree are more left-leaning than his - remember her ill-fated efforts to introduce national healthcare in 1994. She also owes a huge debt to the unions, which helped get out the vote.

Some of her energy will be sapped by the opposition sure to coalesce against her in Republican ranks, just because of who she is. On the Foreign Relations Committee, for example, she will have to spar with its conservative chairman, Senator Jesse Helms.

Now, however, Mrs Clinton could be forgiven for feeling she has had revenge on her enemies. "There are so many Hillary-haters who did everything they could to stop thiswoman from occupying this Senate seat," noted New York's Public Advocate, Mark Green. "Their failure and their hatred have boosted her even higher."

Is the Senate seat for Hillary the last stop of the Clinton team? Is it possible that one day that same green helicopter will come back to Washington with her on-board as the first female US President? Will Bill one day be the First Husband? It would be the natural climax to the Clinton saga, if Hollywood were scripting it. But for now the real-life story is exciting enough.