The Boston Phoenix October 26 - November 2, 2000


A one-term wonder

Neither Al nor George W. has staying power. Here's who looks good for 2004.

by Seth Gitell

TERM LIMITS: sick of them now? Wait four years.

Prediction: Whoever is elected president in two weeks will be a one-term wonder. Call it the Jimmy Carter factor. The peanut farmer from Georgia provided us with four years of sanctimonious breathing room between the downbeat Nixon-Ford years and the reactionary Reagan years. If George W. Bush is elected, in part because of a "character" backlash, voters will be reeling at what they've done by the time the midterm congressional elections come around. Count Bush out, like Carter, after just four years. If, on the other hand, Al Gore wins, he's likely to suffer the same fate as Bush the elder -- after 12 years of his party, voters will say, "Enough already!"

The interesting question now is: who will be running in 2004? Though few party activists would go on the record, it's what all of them are talking about. A word of caution: we may expect major turnover in the White House four years from now, but that doesn't mean that a politician unknown today is going to miraculously come forward tomorrow. Expect to hear familiar names: Kerry, McCain, Whitman, and even Clinton (see "Gone to the Dogs," page 23).

That's right, Clinton, as in Hillary Rodham. In the parlor game that is predicting presidential politics, hers is the first name on every participant's lips. If George W. Bush takes the White House (and if the first lady wins the Senate race in New York -- where she has a slim but steady lead over US Representative Rick Lazio), Hillary Rodham Clinton rockets to the top of many politicos' lists of potential Democratic presidential candidates for 2004. After all, it is Hillary, and not Al, who is the real heir to the Clinton legacy. Unlike Gore, who has gone out of his way to distance himself from the president, Hillary has embraced her Inner Bubba. In fact, she has gotten all the benefits of being associated with the president without any of the negatives. With every twist in the Lewinsky saga, for instance, the public viewed Hillary with more compassion and Gore with more skepticism.

If the economy worsens under a Bush watch -- which is likely, given that the stock market has been on the fritz since March and inflation is slowly creeping upward -- Hillary Rodham Clinton will be the natural

beneficiary of Clinton nostalgia in the same way W. has profited from pro-Bush sentiment. (The public may not be drawn to W. because of his father, but party activists and big donors certainly are.)

The first signal of Hillary 2004 will be her Senate-campaign staff. If she picks up the cream of the Gore campaign and the current White House, then it will look as though she's getting ready to run for the big job. Then, watch to see how much time Clinton spends in New York and how much she spends crisscrossing the country. Look for Hillary Clinton to try to leapfrog seniority-based Senate procedure and join Jesse Helms on the hotly contested Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

One specialist in congressional relations (who, naturally, wanted to remain anonymous) says that if Clinton wins the Senate and Bush wins the presidency, Hillary "emerges as a New Democrat. She becomes a hybrid of Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Bill Clinton, and Bobby Kennedy. She becomes the intellect of the Senate, the heir to triangulation, and the soul of the party all put together. She's Franklin and Eleanor all in one."

He goes on to say that if the troubles in the Middle East intensify, Hillary will probably follow the example of Senator Chuck Schumer and lurch to the right on Israel in order to win over the big-money donors. Not that she'll need to. In running for office, Clinton is inheriting more than just her husband's political legacy. She gets his fundraising machine as well.

Since 1992, President Clinton has completely taken over the Democratic Party's fundraising operations. (The most ironic result of this is that, as Gore has hit the campaign trail, he's had to compete for funds with the Clinton juggernaut -- Hillary's run for office, Bill's presidential library. Exhibit A is the brunch and dinner Barbra Streisand held for both Clintons during the Democratic convention. After Bill and Hill blew out of town, Gore was left scrounging for crumbs.)

"She'll dominate that money immediately, so no one else can get it," the congressional expert says. "The Clintons will be back."

That doesn't mean Hillary's a shoo-in for the Democratic Party nomination in 2004 if Bush wins in 2000. She'll first have to defeat the junior senator from Massachusetts. John Forbes Kerry came very close to challenging Al Gore in 2000, and even closer to being picked as the vice-presidential candidate. If Bush wins, Kerry may come to be seen as having dodged a bullet with Gore's counterintuitive choice of Senator Joseph Lieberman. (And the comparisons between Kerry and President John F. Kennedy will grow. Remember that Kennedy was in the running for the 1956 vice-presidential nod until it went to Estes Kefauver of Tennessee.)

Kerry's an attractive presidential candidate for many of the same reasons he looked so good for the vice-presidency. He's a solid fundraiser. He's a Vietnam veteran -- and a hero at that. (Which makes for a nice contrast with Bush, who spent his wartime years keeping America safe by fooling around in the Texas National Guard.) Plus, if international troubles heat up, Kerry's expertise on defense matters and international affairs will look particularly good.

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Seth Gitell can be reached at sgitell[a]

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