Hillary heads for New York triumph and a place in American history ambition

The First Family
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The Independent US

Hillary Clinton appeared to be heading for a resounding victory over her Republican rival, Rick Lazio, in the New York Senate race last night. Her win, if confirmed later in the night, would ensure her a place in every American school child's history texts as the first wife of a US president to attain elected office.

Hillary Clinton appeared to be heading for a resounding victory over her Republican rival, Rick Lazio, in the New York Senate race last night. Her win, if confirmed later in the night, would ensure her a place in every American school child's history texts as the first wife of a US president to attain elected office.

While the candidates waited late into the night for the official results, early exit polls suggested that Mrs Clinton had beaten her opponent by a convincing eight percentage points in a race that broke spending records and stirred strong emotions not just in New York but right across the country.

The First Lady, who originally signalled her interest in the New York race two years ago and began campaigning in the summer of last year, will take her seat in the US Senate in January. Her triumph will instantly stir speculation about whether she intends to trace a path all the way to the White House.

Thus Mrs Clinton has stared down her many critics and the coalition of conservatives and rabid anti-Clintonites who simply hate her. She has blown away the clouds of scandaland sleaze that enveloped her and her husband throughmuch of the eight-year Clinton tenure. And, above all, shehas broken free from the role of the supportive, political wife.

Moreover, her election will signify a passing of the baton from husband to wife. The President today officially becomes a lame duck as his successor is finally chosen. But Mrs Clinton is now only just beginning, taking over as the bearer of the Clinton standard in Washington DC. And it is that prospect, of course, that drives her foes and those who despise her and her husband crazy.

Early yesterday, the First Family stepped into the gymnasium of the elementary school in their new hometown of Chappaqua, New York, to cast the votes that appear now to have helped make history.They were voting for Al Gore, of course, but also for Hillary.

"You can't put me down as undecided," Bill Clinton bawled to reporters as he left the school with his wife and daughter, Chelsea, by his side and made a beeline for the nearest coffee shop. "I'm there." Which vote meant more to him? The vote for Gore? Maybe. More likely, it was the one for his wife.

After 16 months of flat-out campaigning across the whole of New York state, Mrs Clinton beamed in her campaign uniform of trouser suit with sweater tied around her shoulders. She was bound last night for a celebration party and rally in a mid-town Manhattan hotel.

Analysts will never know whether Mrs Clinton would also have triumphed against the candidate she had expected to face, the New York mayor, Rudy Giuliani, who bowed out of the race for health reasons in May. While Mr Lazio instantly attained significant support after replacing him, he was never able to build on that base.

So now America will begin asking: is the Senate really all that Mrs Clinton wants? How seriously should it take her when she says she has no interest in pursuing the presidency for herself? Will Hillary Clinton attempt to make history again some day by running, perhaps in 2008, to become the first female president of the United States?

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