Can We Talk?

Article excerpt

AFTER EVERY MID-TERM ELECTION, establishment Democrats tend to have what they call "The Conversation." It's effectively about settling on the most liberal presidential candidate skillful enough to fool enough Americans into electing him-or her. In 1992, the consensus choice was Bill Clinton. In 2000. it was reluctantly Al Gore, largely because he was the sitting vice president during a time of prosperity. For 2008, the conversation is being held several months early, accelerated by the front-runner status of Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Democrats are convinced that the New York senator can be nominated. They're just not sure if she is too polarizing and frosty a figure to get elected. A recent Washington Post/ABC News poll found that 42 percent of voters would definitely not consider supporting her for president. By comparison, only 28 percent said the same about John McCain. Howard Fineman of Newsweek puts it bluntly: "The Democratic Party's sawiest veterans-elected officials in their Capitol Hill suites, Hollywood machers tooling along the Santa Monica Freeway in their Priuses, the New York soft money crowd eating their egg-white omelets at the Regency in Manhattan-are convinced that Hillary Can't Win."

That helps explain why every Democrat worth his brie and Chablis was buzzing in May about a frontpage New York Times story on the Clinton marriage. While the article contained no great revelations, a reporter had spent three months and interviewed over 50 people about the relationship. The paper's conclusion was that the state of the Clinton union will be a continuing object of journalistic interest before the 2008 election. As the Times noted: "When the subject of Bill and Hilary Clinton comes up among many prominent Democrats these days, topic A is the state of their marriage and how it might affect her possible bid."

Party insiders aren't talking much about this on the record, no doubt because they fear the wrath of Bill 'n Hil should they talk. But the liberal journalists they consort with are happy to channel their thoughts publicly. Michael Duffy of Time magazine says Democratic Party donors are sufficiently worried about new Clinton stories surfacing that they "have been asking reporters to sort of look into this because I think they don't want to get down the road in a year or two with a front runner who's no longer viable.... They don't want to get burned again."

Party elders also have other concerns about a Hillary Clinton candidacy. Gloria Borger of U.S. News & World Report said on NBC's Chris Matthews Show in May: "[Democrats are] worried that Bill Clinton is going to be the man behind the throne and that could be a problem in terms of running a presidential campaign."

FOLLOWING THE Times story, which went so far as to mention Mr. Clinton's friendship with Canadian politician and heiress Belinda Stronach, the consensus among party officials is that someone in the Clinton inner circle will have to approach Senator Clinton after the mid-term election for a discussion about how to address the inevitable public curiosity about the state of her marriage. …