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January 8, 2008

The Obama Factor

Roy Meachum

One-time Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton goes into today's New Hampshire primary a surprising underdog.

She woke up Monday morning to a CNN-UNH poll that converted Saturday's dead-even face-off with Barack Obama into his 10-point advantage. Before tonight's final count her situation could become even worse. It couldn't happen to a more deserving politician.

Carrying off every meaningful endorsement proved less than meaningless; it simply strengthened the public perception that she was not a fresh start but an integral part of the old mess. Her calls in Iowa that she was the only candidate who could bring about meaningful change wound up in the trash and her third-place finish.

From the outset the senator from New York counted on the party's "old reliables" to deliver what she felt she had earned. Forgiving her husband's Monica Lewinsky escapade spared Democrats from being torn asunder. On that basis she slipped into Congress's upper chamber.

Immediately she settled on Capitol Hill, Mrs. Clinton made no moves, uttered no words that might harm her progress toward the White House. She demonstrated for all the world to see a mastery of cautious politics.

She and her husband's claim they opposed the Iraq invasion are absolutely not true. Look up the record. Her present stance virtually mimics George W. Bush's. She has said American soldiers, women and men, might have to stay in Baghdad for years, echoing the president. But that's what the national Democratic leadership tells her to say.

Going into the primaries Hillary Rodham Clinton nurtured the role of a willing servant of her party's elders. As a result, she figured to take the preponderance of delegates from the so-called Blue States, places like Maryland where the decisions are, by and large, made by Democratic "wise men and women."

Gov. Martin O'Malley and senior Sen. Barbara Mikulski left Baltimore's airport last week, figuring they could make New Hampshire "safe" for Mrs. Clinton, counting on reciprocity when the ex-First Lady moved back into the White House.

But a funny thing happened in Iowa; Mr. Obama collected enough Independents and an outpouring of young people to score his coup. Mrs. Clinton and her more famous husband, between them, did no better than third place.

Having "swiped" the Illinois senator's gospel of change, she essentially abandoned her strongest plank, her so-called experience, which apparently came from sleeping with the president. If memory serves, her outstanding initiative was in the area of health care, which went down in flames. More memorable still remains how she handled her erring husband.

We are told other women admired her strong and silent performance, given the severe provocation of Bill Clinton's performance. Distaff voters rewarded her patience that saved the marriage, we are informed, by awarding her a seat in the U.S. Senate.

Given her reputation for a blasting quick-temper, I have come to believe she sat on her fury: walking out would have rendered null and void the Clintons' agreement to take turns running the world, at least the United States. The lady has always struck me as completely dominated by ambition and political drive.

As everybody knows, Ms. Lewinsky was simply one in a string of brutal philandering Mrs. Clinton dealt with. However, that was the one that promoted impeachment that might have resulted in the deaths of both their careers.

Still, with her eye on the presidential gold, she persevered only to run smack-dab on to Barack Obama, part African-American and with an Islamic name that, in the present public atmosphere, should have demolished his political hopes. But didn't.

(These thoughts continue in Friday's

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