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It Takes a . . . Carpetbagger

With Rudy planning a Senate run, New York Democrats are searching for another Bobby Kennedy, someone to ride into town and lead them to the promised land. Hillary Clinton, your room at the Carlyle is ready.


Political speculation comes, and political speculation goes. But this one, as far as New York Democrats are concerned, is the Mother of All Scenarios, a dream worthy of their sense of history: Hillary for Senate.

It seems, at first blush, ridiculous. Even she couldn't pull this one off. Wouldn't want to, for one thing. Run for Senate from a state she's never lived in? Only to go back to Washington -- she hates Washington -- back to the city of Ken Starr and Trent Lott and Chris Matthews and Sally Quinn, where they see her as an intruder and debaucher of pre-Clinton-era mores that were, um, unimpeachable? She should be dying to get the hell out of there, start making the kind of money she needs to pay those legal bills, hover in the penumbra of national politics for a while, live happily with her breathtaking transformation from ultra-liberal, anti-cookie immoralist to martyred feminist familial rock.

But hold on a minute. Surely, she wants a career and, after her husband's term ends, will be free to establish one on her own terms entirely. Surely, she hankers still to be at the center of things. Surely, having done the spade work of public service, having read to thousands of schoolchildren and lit hundreds of Christmas trees and been roped into lending her name to that silly little bestiary about Buddy and Socks, she wants more substance and less fluff. So why not?

"That's something that . . . I don't know how much of a possibility that is," says James Carville. "It's more fun to speculate than anything else."

"Off the record?" says a Senate Democratic staff person. "Not a chance in hell."

"She'd be a terrific candidate. She could win," says George Stephanopoulos. "SHE'S . . . NOT . . . RUNNING!"

One might ask, however, if George, given his own career change, is still in the loop. And others who know her aren't quite so fast to slam the door. "She's not about to make any Shermanesque statement," says Harold Ickes, who says he still talks to her every couple of weeks or so. "I'd be surprised, but, you know, you never know."

Nope, you never do. And unlikely as it may seem to some, it has to be said that the trajectory of her life these last tumultuous years has been pretty unlikely, too. Hillary for Senate? Call it improbable, but admit, too, given who she is and what New York is, that it makes a strange kind of sense.

This story has two parts. One part, of course, is about Hillary -- her pilgrim's progress, as it were, her search for redemption and a future, the unprecedented and unique politico-cultural space she occupies. We'll come back around to that. But the other part, and in many ways the more interesting part, is about New York. Stephanopoulos is blunt on this point: "This is as much about the vanity of New York and New Yorkers as it is about Mrs. Clinton. And by using the word vanity, I affirm that I am not a candidate in this race."

The Hill-for-Senate boomlet emanates, in the first instance, from a few very specific political observations: (1) Rudy Giuliani is likely to be the Republican nominee for Pat Moynihan's seat in 2000, and the Democrats will be hard-pressed to find someone who can run credibly against him. (2) It follows that the national party risks losing a Senate seat at a moment in history the Democrats are hoping will propel them back into control of Congress, and the state party loses a major, and prestigious, power base. (3) The state Democratic Party is not, shall we say, rich with talent just now. (4) The state Democratic Party is not rich with money, either, and would not mind finding a candidate who can raise plenty, for both self and party. (5) There's one Democrat whom Democrats seem to love, love, love.

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