The first lady, whose putative campaign has been sputtering in recent weeks, hurt by poor showings in the polls and the fall-out from what was perceived as a disastrous visit to the Middle East two weeks ago, stopped short of a formal declaration yesterday. She would do that in the new year, she said.
Mrs Clinton was on a campaign-style visit to the headquarters of the United Teachers Federation in Manhattan. Asked whether she was still committed to running in the Senate race next year, she replied: "The answer is yes, I intend to run." Her response drew loud cheers from about 100 supporters attending.
The first lady returned this week from accompanying President Bill Clinton on his visits to Turkey and Greece to find her campaign assailed by problems. Most ominously, figures from within the Democratic Party in New York have spoken up in recent days, questioning her readiness for a race that will almost certainly be fought against the hard-hitting Mayor of New York, Rudolph Giuliani. The criticism had begun to fuel speculation that she might back out of the contest after all.
"It's time to get started and time to get moving," she said yesterday. Asked by a reporter if there was any ambiguity about her plans, she answered: "I will have a formal announcement after the first of the year that will lay out the campaign's positions and what I intend to talk about."
Mrs Clinton's handlers remain determined to hold off a formal declaration of her candidacy until the new year, when more attention is likely to be paid by the public and the media. Her words yesterday, however, should be enough to kill any further speculation about her intention. They also seal the future of President Clinton once he relinquishes the White House in 13 months' time. He has privately made known he would rather move to California or back to Arkansas. It seems that Westchester will have to be his home - assuming he and Mrs Clinton remain together.
The pressure on Mrs Clinton to reassure her supporters had become acute in recent days. Last weekend, a prominent Democrat on the New York City Council, Ronnie Eldridge, called on her to abandon her Senate ambitions and clear the way for a stronger candidate. In recent polls, Mrs Clinton has consistently trailed Mayor Giuliani by around 7 points.
But the worst blow came from her recent visit to the Middle East. When she met the wife of the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat on 11 November, Suha Arafat alleged that Israeli forces had for years been poisoning Palestinian women and children with noxious gases. Mrs Clinton came under instant attack at home for failing to challenge the remark.
Shortly before the first lady spoke yesterday, a Democrat in the New York Senate, Carl Kruger, joined her critics, promising that he would formally endorse Mayor Giuliani for the seat being vacated by the retiring Democratic senator, Daniel Patrick Moynihan.
Mrs Clinton has found herself the target of harsh television advertisements that assail her for remaining silent in the face of Mrs Arafat's remarks and proceeding publicly to embrace her. The advertisements, which have been denounced by Mrs Clinton's staff, are being funded by the Republican Jewish Coalition.
Mrs Clinton will now be expected to begin scaling back her role and duties in Washington to concentrate all her activities in New York. Supporters and officials in the Democratic Party have been urging her to make the transition as soon as possible, arguing that she cannot hope to continue operating as spouse of the President and try to win over voters in New York at the same time. Al Gore, the Vice-President, has undergone much the same metamorphosis by moving his presidential campaign headquarters to his native Tennessee.Reuse content