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'No plans' to run for the White House in 2008, insists Hillary

Hillary Clinton last night played down speculation that she might be preparing to make a run for the White House in 2008, even as the release today of her much hyped memoir was stirring hopes among some Democrats that she will try to become America's first woman president.

Speaking to Barbara Walters of ABC news last night, the former first lady flatly ruled out a late entry into the 2004 race. She was coy about the chances of her trying four years later. "I have no intention or plans of running," she said of the 2008 presidential race. She said she was flattered by speculation she might throw her hat in the ring, and hoped it would encourage women to aim for the Oval Office.

A million copies of Mrs Clinton's memoir, replete with details of her agony over the Monica Lewinsky affair, have been printed.But if the book and its accompanying publicity blitz is all about positioning Mrs Clinton for the 2008 a presidential bid there was troubling news in an ABC News poll yesterday. It showed most Americans were opposed to her ever running for the White House.

But recent polls have seemed to offer encouragement to Mrs Clinton. For example, they have showed that were she running in 2004, she would easily outpace any of the declared candidates from her own Democratic Party. The ABC poll looks at all Americans of both main parties and demonstrates what many have long recognised as her greatest weakness: the polarising effect she has on the population. The ABC survey shows that while 44 per cent of Americans hold a positive view of the senator, 48 per cent hold an unfavourable opinion ­ a figure that would normally be too high for a viable candidacy for the presidency. Moreover, twice as many viewed her "strongly" negatively as "strongly" positively. Strikingly, the poll saw little difference between women and men in their feelings towards Mrs Clinton. Unsurprisingly, she draws most of her support from Democrats; nearly two out of three Republicans had a strongly negative opinion of her.

The publicity drive for her memoir, Living History, has been accelerated by the publishers after the first leaks of its contents ­ focusing on her distress on discovering the truth of her husband's dalliance with Ms Lewinsky ­ to news organisations last week.

More emerged yesterday. For example, she likens her ability to forgive Bill Clinton to that of Nelson Mandela forgiving his white jailers. "It was a challenge to forgive Bill ... but if Mandela could forgive, I would try," she writes. She also said that her fury with the special prosecutor into the affair, Kenneth Starr, helped her to stick with her man.