Can Hillary Win?

No question, Sen. Hillary Clinton has the bona fides to run for president: solid legal education, has plied the Washington D.C. waters for eight years as First Lady, served as First Lady of Arkansas, and stood tall through a public scandal that would have leveled most wives and shattered most marriages. Added to her resume is the fact that the hard-sell voters of New York State have returned her for a second term to the Senate where she has worked tenaciously to represent her constituency. She's smart and politically astute.

Clearly, Hillary, to use her campaign moniker, is made of steely stuff. And, as a member of the formidable political team of Rodham-Clinton and Clinton, she has, unlike Obama, instant name recognition. People feel they know her.

But here's the question that many Democrats are asking as this marathon campaign moves ever closer to the primaries and the moment when the party will have to choose its candidate: if nominated, can she win?

It's an agonizing question for the Dems. Clearly, the election of 2008 will be one of the most crucial in more than half-a-century, perhaps not since the election of Franklin Roosevelt. There is a great deal at stake for America, and the Democrats will say, and repeat, that four or eight more years of Republican rule will so damage the country that it could take generations to recover. Hyperbolic, perhaps, but from the view point of the blue staties, not by much. For many, this coming election is viewed as a must win.

The Republicans, in contrast, consider her the dream Democratic candidate, for many their first choice, and more than a few are holding their collective breath hoping that she'll snag the nomination.

Here's why: The Republicans are well aware that Hillary is controversial among many voters, both blue and red. In a recent Gallop poll, 50 percent said they had an unfavorable opinion of the Senator. It's a startling high number and one that gives the Democrats pause. No one in the Hillary camp can quite puzzle out her negatives. Could it be the still resilient blowback from her long ago comment that she pursued a career instead of staying home and baking cookies? Not likely. So what is it? Truthfully, it doesn't feel like a political glass ceiling &

a woman as Commander-in-Chief, leader of the free world. There's something else in play that is gender free but elusive.

The meta-question is whether she can overcome such a hurdle and win the general election?

The Republicans think not. And given their reputation for some of the most despicable campaign strategies &

these are the people who brought you the "Swift Boat" ads challenging Kerry's war record, the same people who, in 2000, accused John McCain of having an illegitimate child with a black woman &

they relish Hillary as a target. The negative attack ads would almost write themselves. Plus, Richard Land, the president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Convention, said to Newsweek recently that the prospects of a Hillary presidency would unite social conservatives.

There is also her vote on Iraq, something she has insisted she will not apologize for, though she has often said that if she knew then what she knows now she would have voted differently. But Iraq poses some interesting problems for Hillary, one of them stemming from a little known vote that she cast just before the Oct. 11, 2002 Senate vote to authorize Bush to take the country to war. In a recent article in The New York Times Magazine, "Hillary's War," by Jeff Gerth and Don Van Atta, Jr., the authors point to a vote she cast on October 10, 2002, the same day she spoke about why she would support the war authorization with the caveat that there be a strong diplomatic component.

The long overlooked vote was, according to Gerth and Van Atta, Jr., a vote "on an amendment introduced by Carl Levin and several other democrats who hoped to rein in President Bush by requiring a two-step process before Congress would actually authorize the use of force." First, Levin called for the U.N. to pass a new resolution explicitly approving force against Iraq. It then required the president to return to Congress if such a resolution failed, and ask for authority to go-it-alone as the last option. This was tailor-made for Hillary, and in line with her prior statements; yet, she voted against the Levin et. al. amendment, for reasons she has never fully explained. The Republicans will ask her to explain.

Despite all of the debates and campaigning, the democratic field has yet to enter the stadium. Who will cross the finish line first is still a question mark. Obama and Edwards are strong candidates, and there's much to sort out. All of this will make for interesting political theater; however, the outcome is so crucial, there is already a grim aspect to this, the race of all races.

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