David Usborne in New York: Hillary heads for a higher calling

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In a kitchen removed from the brouhaha of 3,000 Democrats assembled at the Sheraton Hotel to celebrate victory on Tuesday night, a party aide was trying to get her ducks in a row, or at least establish their proper running order. "It's Clinton first and then Cuomo, correct?" she pleaded into her two-way radio.

Actually, not quite. Hillary Clinton, who had just won re-election as a New York senator by a landslide, would have to bide her time in the parade of heroes that shortly would be taking the stage in the main ballroom. "Ladies and gentlemen", a voice boomed abruptly. "Please welcome Andrew Cuomo!" The night was meant to be about the Democrats in New York; she would have to share the billing.

Presidential hopeful though she may be, Mrs Clinton was the filling in the sandwich between Mr Cuomo, elected as Attorney General, and Elliott Spitzer, the man with the eagle nose who will succeed the Republican George Pataki as Governor of New York. She was a filling, indeed, in bright hues of mustard.

It was a big night for everyone - the Democrats have not achieved such a comprehensive sweep of New York's top political jobs since 1949 - but it was for Hillary that the room went thoroughly wild. She swept on stage in a hurricane of cheers and left to the strains of "Baby, You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet".

For the throng in the ballroom - campaign foot-soldiers, party lieutenants, big-time donors and other hangers-on (look, Ivanka Trump, daughter of Donald) - it was a night for savouring victory. But two cross-currents ran through the night. There was nostalgia. (Think Cuomo and Clinton.) But there was also the future - a glint of a new generation of Democrat stars. (Cuomo, Clinton and Spitzer.)

No one embodies the clash of the Democrats' past and future more than Mrs Clinton, of course. Yes, Bill was there, the muscles in his chin tightened in affectionate pride. A past president standing four steps behind a wife who may be a future one. None of the former first lady's aides are going to speak about 2008 this week, but it didn't take her long to start talking about nation rather than state in her speech.

She did it by taking aim at the Vice President, Dick Cheney, and his recent prediction that whatever the outcome of these elections the administration would continue "full-speed ahead". To which she replied: "I think the American people have said 'Not so fast!'" With a mighty roar, the crowd showed it agreed.

Everything about Tuesday was good for Mrs Clinton and her presidential ambitions. Her margin of victory for a second term as a New York senator was far larger than after her first run six years ago. (She got 67 per cent of the vote compared with 55 per cent in 2000.) Even better, she drew support from every part of the state this time, including from some normally Republican-leaning districts.

Just as it was Hillary with Bill on stage, so, a few moments earlier, it had been Andrew with his father Mario. Not quite the orator his dad was, Andrew nonetheless has a few of his commanding cadences. "No one is so powerful that they are above the law," he declared. "No one is so powerless they are beneath the law's protection." And then "Ain't No Stopping Us Now" filled the ballroom as he departed to make way for Governor-elect Spitzer.

... and those who stand in her way for 2008

Barak Obama Illinois Senator

As plotting for the 2008 presidential race begins in earnest, everyone wants to know one thing. When will Barak Obama, a Democrat freshman senator from Illinois, make up his mind about taking on Hillary Clinton for his party's nomination?

In recent weeks Mr Obama has released a best-selling book, a tome of political musings, and has darted all over the country supporting Democrats. And, yes, he talked a little about 2008.

After saying repeatedly since his election to national office in 2004 that he was not considering the presidency, he said in a network TV interview that well, actually, yes, he was pondering reaching for the biggest prize. That he has deep appeal is not in question."Barak Obama is like a rock star - he is so fresh," said Larry Sabato, a professor of political science at the University of Virginia. "Most of the rest of the field look like the Rolling Stones." He means especially Mrs Clinton.

A win by either would be historic. She would be the first woman in the White House and he the first black.

John McCain Arizona Senator

It was nearly one in the morning yesterday when Senator John McCain, the Republican senator from Arizona, starting appearing on the television networks. He was subdued and regretful. More interesting, however, was his choice of backdrop for the interviews: the flags of his state and of the US. The senator and Vietnam veteran was not, in other words, going to let the defeat of Republicans discourage him from his quest to win his party's nomination for president in 2008.

He explained his optimism in an interview. "I'm a student of history," he said. "We lost badly in 1976. We came back in 1980 and gained the presidency and majority in the Senate... We'll get back on track."

So far only Mitt Romney, the Massachusetts governor, has emerged as a competitor. But that does not mean he won't face other rivals. To say that Mr McCain will hit the ground running is to do him a disservice. He is already running. Who else has travelled 140,000 miles around the USsince early September?

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