Is she or isn't she?

Hillary Clinton announces her run for the Senate from New York. Or doesn't ...

Published November 23, 1999 11:20AM (EST)

Hillary Clinton announced her intention to run for the U.S. Senate here Tuesday -- and in her phrasing lies the tale. Speaking before the United Federation of Teachers in Manhattan, the first lady had them in the palm of her hand when she pronounced dramatically, "The answer is 'yes' [enormous cheers] -- I intend to run" (somewhat less enthusiastic noises).

Saying that she would make a formal announcement of her candidacy next year, after all, was hardly news. That has been her stated plan all along.

But recent polls and editorials (notably in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Post, not exactly Clinton country) have applied some new pressure, and there has been speculation that she was going to fold her hand before the game actually began. Even the Rev. Al Sharpton had even gotten into it, effectively threatening to run himself if Mrs. Clinton did not.

Both Associated Press and Reuters definitively stated after the press conference that she was running. AP helpfully added that she had told Housing Secretary Andrew Cuomo that she was definitely in the race.

But some news sources remained skeptical. Fox News was still covering the news conference an hour and a half after it started but broke away with the kicker, "'I intend to run' -- now what?" (Fox, like the Post, is owned by Rupert Murdoch and is not exactly a pro-Hillary outlet.) By the end of Tuesday the headline on the Fox Web site read "Hillary Says Yes." CNN had no qualifier, saying on its Web site that "Hillary Clinton says she's running for Senate" and her aides insist that the "intend" is not meant to give her wiggle room.

Why, then, this debate on the meaning of her words? It could be the simple dashing of hopes that must have been palpable among conservatives that she would withdraw. The editorial cartoon in today's Post envisions Hillary as the Wicked Witch of the West, melting after Dorothy (Giuliani in his now-familiar drag) has thrown water on her from a bucket labeled "Polls".

Or it could be the guilt-by-association factor of her famously prevaricating husband, who still has lawyers arguing, somewhere, over what the meaning of "is" is.

No doubt some Demos will be bolstered by Hillary's semi-strong statement. Looking a little like Annette Bening in "American Beauty" ("I will sell this crowd today!"), the first lady fielded questions with aplomb (and the occasional bit of wiggling, especially on that dicey matter of a Palestinian state).

But hey, this was the most free air time that quasi-candidate Clinton has enjoyed to date. And isn't that what it's all about?

By Sean Elder

Sean Elder is a frequent contributor to Salon.

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Democratic Party Hillary Rodham Clinton Rudy Giuliani