WILL HILLARY BE CHEATED AGAIN? Betrayed by Her Husband, Hillary Clinton Consoled Herself with the Dream of Being President. but Could She End Up Playing Second Fiddle to Another Charismatic Charmer?

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AN ABILITY to apply hard work to a shining intelligence marked out the young Hillary Clinton for high public office. So when the high-achieving Yale student abandoned her own ambitions in order to help her boyfriend Bill fulfil his own political career, her best friend asked: 'Are you out of mind?

Why on earth would you throw away your future?' Now, more than 30 years later, Hillary Clinton is trying to get her future back.

The earnest young lawyer in bottle glasses is now 60 years old, a tough and glamorous New York Senator within sight of being the next President of the United States. This is her moment. Finally, she is poised to stand as the person she is, rather than as who her husband is.

She has the record, the position, the money, the support, the right hairstyle at last. Yet the only quality she cannot summon, however hard she works at it, is charm. Of course, Bill Clinton had it by the bucketful and it made (and unmade) him as President.

Now it looks as if this lack of charm may once again thwart Hillary's ambitions.

For the announcement this week by her charismatic rival Democrat, Barack Obama, that he is 'exploring' declaring his Presidential candidacy, with a formal announcement to follow next month, confirms Hillary Clinton's fears that she may not win her party's presidential ticket.

According to Jacob Weisberg, editor of the online political magazine Slate: 'She has got as far as she possibly can for someone with absolutely no political talent.' While Obama, the 45-year-old Senator for Illinois, has a fraction of Hillary's experience, he is a born politician. 'Obama is uncannily similar in charm to Bill Clinton,' says the highly respected Hendrik Hertzberg of the New Yorker magazine. The similarities with John F.

Kennedy are also striking.

The truth is that charm can turn political weaknesses into strengths.

Indeed, Obama addresses his inexperience in his autobiography Dreams From My Father, which, like his political tract The Audacity Of Hope, currently tops the American bestseller charts.

Describing how he felt when he arrived in Washington, he says: 'I felt like the rookie who shows up after the game, his uniform spotless, eager to play even as his mud-spattered team mates tend to their wounds.' This is the beauty of the blank record. Obama has not yet compromised or dissembled.

Whereas Hillary Clinton, who has been with us for a political generation and already spent eight years in the White House as First Lady-cum-Chief-of-Staff, is bent double by her baggage.

The New York writer and film director Nora Ephron says of her: 'She has taken up a huge slice of the brain in American women since 1991. That is a long time in America.

'We have been through so much with her - so many incarnations and hairstyles and ups and downs. She always breaks your heart a little bit because she doesn't quite do it - neither what you want her to do nor what you would do yourself.'

HILLARY Clinton has been forced to compromise more than most because she naturally polarises people, especially women. She has twisted and turned from being a feminist to rapturous wife, to cookie baker and world statesman. Even her name changed from Hillary Rodham, the surname she swore she would never relinquish, to Hillary Clinton and then to Hillary Rodham Clinton.

According to Hertzberg: 'Her main problem is that she is a career feminist icon who got where she is today because of who she married.' She has also had to fight suspicions that she remains, at heart, a Sixties Leftwing radical.

For although she proved her hawkish credentials by supporting the war in Iraq, she is now trying to distance herself from it.

For many Democrats, next year's presidential election is a one-issue affair. Barack Obama has not achieved many things but his original opposition to the war in Iraq may be the only position that matters. …