What will Hillary Clinton do?

Postmortems for Clinton's presidential campaign now focus on her options for the future.


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Vincent Rossmeier
May 27, 2008 11:23PM (UTC)

There's still a week left before the final Democratic primaries take place in Montana and South Dakota, but political pundits everywhere are getting a jump-start on heralding the end of Hillary Clinton's presidential bid. On Tuesday, George Stephanopoulos, a former aide to Bill Clinton, told ABC's "Good Morning America" that the likelihood of Clinton continuing her campaign until the Democratic Convention in August is "zero." And the headline of an AP article says that "the era of big Clintons is soon over."

So if the campaign finally, really and truly will soon be over, what then for Clinton? (Assuming she's the loser, of course -- and most reporters and pundits do assume that at this point.) Articles in both the New York Times and the Washington Post examine Clinton's post-campaign prospects. The articles offer bleak assessments of her career opportunities in the Senate for the near future.

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Much of the Post article, written by Shailagh Murray and Paul Kane, compares Clinton's current situation with that of Sen. Ted Kennedy in 1980, after he abandoned his presidential bid. After conceding to Jimmy Carter, Kennedy came back to build a strong career for himself in the Senate. But, as the article points out, Kennedy had been a senator for 18 years at the time he ended his campaign. Clinton will have no such claim of seniority -- according to the Times piece, she currently ranks 36th out of the 49 Democratic senators on that score. Murray and Kane speculate that Clinton may have to forsake the Senate, perhaps in favor of the governorship of New York, to find a post she would deem adequately powerful.

Adding that Clinton "faces few options for quick advancement should she give up her presidential bid," Murray and Kane also cast doubt on the idea that Clinton will become the Senate's majority leader in exchange for dropping out of the race. They write that current Majority Leader Harry Reid has solidified his position in the last 18 months and both Majority Whip Richard Durbin and Democratic caucus vice-chairman Charles Schumer have positioned themselves to be Reid's likely successors if and when the Nevada senator chooses to step down.

Carl Hulse provides a slightly more optimistic analysis in the Times, writing, A "case can be made that her campaign has strengthened her Senate hand. She is now an even more firmly established national figure in her own right, with a defined and substantial following, one of the few in the Senate who can make that claim."

But Hulse then acknowledges that even with Clinton's increased national prominence, her "relatively junior status limits her options in the Senate." She lacks the key council chairmanship position that helps to boost a senator's sway. Whether Clinton will be able to use her clout to leverage a more powerful role in Washington after June 3 will be something to watch for in the weeks ahead.

Clinton may find that, like Thomas Wolfe, she can't go home again. Discussing what it will be like for her to return to the Senate, Hulse writes, "There is also the personal challenge of returning to a club where more Democratic members, some quite pointedly, favored Senator Barack Obama and spurned her. For Mrs. Clinton, who has spent years cultivating friendships and raising money for colleagues, that had to hurt. Though the Senate is a place where rival lawmakers daily work side-by-side, this family feud was more public and pronounced than usual."


Vincent Rossmeier

Vincent Rossmeier is an editorial assistant at Salon.

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