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JOAN VENNOCHI

Is Hillary's nomination inevitable?

HILLARY '08. The inevitability campaign now underway demonstrates everything bad about modern American politics.

Two months into George W. Bush's second term as president, a cadre of Hillary Clinton supporters is trying to lock up the Democratic presidential nomination for New York's junior senator. One supporter is her husband, former president Bill Clinton, who declares that his wife would make an excellent president. Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware also predicts "she is likely to be the nominee."

So, case closed? No other Democrats need apply? That is ridiculous.

For once, some political insiders are trying to put the fix in for a woman for president. But a smoke-filled room of political power brokers handpicking a female presidential nominee is no more appealing than one that selects one of the boys. And it is likely to be just as ineffi- cient when it comes to choosing a winner.

Democratic loyalists exerted all their influence to derail former Vermont governor Howard Dean and make Massachusetts Senator John Kerry the party nominee in 2004. With help from Dean and voters in Iowa and New Hampshire, they succeeded. Then Kerry lost in November.

Hillary Clinton has a strong case to make to Democrats and independents.

She is a celebrity politician who can raise money. Early polls put her ahead of Kerry and other Democratic presidential hopefuls.

Results from one recent poll showed that six in 10 voters believe that the United States is ready for a female president, and 53 percent thought Hillary Clinton should try for the job.

She has the next three years to build her case – and so should other Democrats with different ideas about party direction and agenda.

As a couple, the Clintons are skilled at political repositioning. Right now it's all about grabbing the middle, as defined by the 2004 presidential election.

Hillary Clinton went public with the view that avoiding abortion is the correct goal for prochoice advocates. She reached out to religious conservatives with an endorsement of faith-based initiatives.

With her 2006 reelection campaign approaching, she is wooing New York Republicans.

She backs the Bush doctrine in Iraq.

As for Bill Clinton, at the request of President George W. Bush, he is leading the US tsunami relief effort with former President George H.W. Bush. On their tour of tsunami damage in Southeast Asia, Clinton allowed the elder Bush to sleep on the plane's only bed while he stretched out on the floor, according to Newsweek. In this instance, Clinton's dedication to the cause could be viewed as a political two-fer: tsunami relief and Hillary '08. It projects a beautiful photoop to red state America. But is it beautiful enough to make Clinton-haters forget why they hate the Clintons?

To believe that is naive. It also fails to acknowledge the GOP's well-established path to victory. Republican campaign strategists create their own image of the Democratic challenger; they do not accept the image promoted by the opposition.

The GOP-inspired image is seared into voters' minds through relentless advertising, talking points, and conservative talking heads. So far, Democrats have not come up with a successful antidote.

In 2004, Republicans – with help from the Democratic candidate – made sure the Democratic nominee was John Kerry, flip-flopper and Vietnam War protester, not John Kerry, political centrist and Vietnam War hero. If Hillary Clinton is the Democratic presidential nominee in 2008, the GOP will run against Hillary Clinton as defined by the GOP, not as defined by the Democratic Party.

In the end, the Clintons may be resilient and resourceful enough to beat back Republican spin doctors. They certainly have experience doing so. But no one should be fooled into believing that electing a woman generally and Hillary Clinton specifically will happen easily. It will take hundreds of millions of dollars, tremendous will, and ugly political warfare.

In remarks following a recent speech at Wellesley College, Hillary Clinton's alma mater, feminist Betty Friedan scoffed at the notion of a presidential face-off between two women, Clinton and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. "It will never happen," she said.

It might; in politics, anything can happen. But it's too early to pick a presidential candidate and way too early to try to dictate who should be a party's presidential nominee.

Joan Vennochi's e-mail address is vennochi@globe.com.


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