The one question looming at the Hillary Clinton victory party was all but spelled out in block letters on a handmade sign carried by Harjinder Singh Duggal of Queens: "HILLARY: 1 STEP, 2 YEARS TO THE WHITE HOUSE." But asked later in the evening whether the senator from New York would be announcing her much-anticipated bid for the 2008 presidential race, Howard Wolfson, a Democratic consultant and close advisor to Clinton would only laugh. "Not tonight," he said, "But we do appreciate your interest!"
As the polls closed in New York and a fine mist began to fall over Manhattan, several thousand enthusiastic supporters packed into the Metropolitan East ballroom at midtown's Sheraton Hotel and Towers for the New York Statewide Democratic Party Election Night Celebration.
With the results of the nation's races flashing on big screens overhead, a petite middle-aged woman raised her bottle of Brooklyn lager and exclaimed of the Republicans, "That's right, we're gonna work their asses!" The rest of the raucous crowd -- including movies stars (Ed Norton), men in dark suits and graying temples, carefully coifed women in classic Chanel-style tweeds, and fresh-faced campaign workers -- hummed in anticipation of the arrival of their candidates: Andrew Cuomo, Elliot Spitzer -- and of course, Senator Hillary Clinton.
Surely no one expected the newly re-elected senator to broach the 2008 question in her victory speech, especially since she still coyly maintains she has not decided on a presidential bid. But when she took the stage, blazing in a canary yellow suit, Clinton wasted little time in getting to the current White House residents -- attacking Vice President Cheney for his recent comments that the administration would continue moving "full speed ahead" regardless of the outcome. She called for a "government that is accountable, transparent, competent, and committed to our constitution and the rule of law," repeatedly insisting that it's time for a "new course." That new course, Clinton said, required a movement away from "partisan ideological division" and back to the "vital and dynamic center." That sounded like a return to the politics of the other Clinton, who stood silently, smilingly as Hillary held the spotlight.
Lou Camaj, a 50-something waiter, rested behind the swinging kitchen doors as Clinton finished her speech. "Isn't this a great night?" he exclaimed, nudging his coworker, John Shackleford, of Staten Island. "Are we ready for a female President -- absolutely. After all, we all already have female presidents in our houses!"
Outside in the foyer, Hillary Cullen, a fur-collared financial service advisor enjoying a glass of white wine at the bar, was more measured in her support. "I'm sure she'd do a great job [in the White House], but I need to get onboard a little more. She's got really high negatives -- and really high positives." Her brother, Kevin, cocked his head and grinned: "Have you noticed it's always women who have problems with Hillary?"