My wife Hillary would make an excellent president, says Clinton

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The Independent US

Speculation is mounting that Hillary Rodham Clinton will bid to become the first woman president of the United States after supportive comments were made by leading Democrats, including her husband, and polls showed public opinion in her favour.

Speculation is mounting that Hillary Rodham Clinton will bid to become the first woman president of the United States after supportive comments were made by leading Democrats, including her husband, and polls showed public opinion in her favour.

Fuelling the gossip, Bill Clinton declared during a visit to Japan that his wife "would make an excellent president". While saying he did not know if she would run, he added: "If she did run and she was able to win, she'd make a very, very good president. I think now she's at least as good as I was."

Another Democrat who may have his own presidential ambitions, Senator Jo Biden, suggested his party's nomination for president in 2008 may be already be in the bag for his New York colleague. "She is likely to be the nominee," he said. "She'd be incredibly difficult to beat. She is the most difficult obstacle for anyone being the nominee."

The outlook for Mrs Clinton has improved since last November, when Senator John Kerry failed to win the presidency. The accepted wisdom at the time was that Mrs Clinton, 57, remained too polarising a political figure to have any realistic hope of rescuing her party's fortunes in 2008. But now a consensus is now emerging that the senator has been successful in recasting her reputation as a liberal out of touch with mainstream America whose army of fans were at least matched by the numbers of Americans who loathe her.

She has been determinedly repositioning herself towards the political centre, repeatedly evoking her faith, voicing support for troops in Iraq, and, most notably, reaching out to opponents of abortion.

Among the hopeful signs for Mrs Clinton was a survey last week by Sienna College in Albany, showing a new willingness among Americans to consider a woman for president. Six out of 10 voters said they thought the country was ready for a woman president and 53 per cent of those surveyed said Mrs Clinton should try for the White House in 2008, eclipsing all other female politicians.

Other recent polls have showed the senator attracting a growing base of support in New York state, which she has represented in the Senate since 2000. For now, she continues to insist that she is focused only on seeking re-election in the state in 2006. Her job approval rating among the state's voters climbed to an impressive 69 per cent in a New York Times poll last week, more than 10 points higher than two years ago. She has bolstered her support by avoiding the spotlight in Washington and working for New York's interests, frequently visiting the state to meet voters.

But more significant may have been a Gallup survey last week that showed her appealing more than ever to women outside the Democrat fold. It suggested increasing numbers of Republican and independent women, particularly in younger age groups, taking a second look at the former first lady.

Frank Newport of Gallup said: "My hypothesis is she will bring over women voters who normally would not vote for a Democratic candidate." Lee Miringhoff, of the Marist Institute of Polling, said the Democrat nomination was far from assured for Mrs Clinton but the idea of a woman president had "some appeal" and that gave her an opportunity.

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