Byline: Jennifer G. Hickey, INSIGHT
If you mention her name, opinions will come. For Melissa Brundege, a 24-year-old from Northern Virginia, admiration for Hillary Rodham Clinton stems from the freshman senator's "straightforwardness" and the fact "she really knows what she wants." Those sentiments were echoed in one form or another by many of the hundreds of supporters who lined the sidewalk on one of Washington's first summer mornings. Many had arrived hours early to secure a spot in line to have Clinton sign their copy of her memoir, Living History.
Harold Vizian, who walked over from his downtown office, compared Clinton to Eleanor Roosevelt, while Nancy Hunter called the Democratic senator from New York an "outstanding role model" who should run for president. Although admitting she had not voted for Bill Clinton, Hunter said a potential Hillary candidacy would be a "positive reflection on our country." Asked if she would support another presidential candidacy for Elizabeth Dole or a run by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Hunter said, "Hillary is the strongest and has the best chance of winning."
Steps away from those queuing for the celebrity autograph, the sentiments were less embracing. Standing with a protest sign across from Trover's bookstore was Beth Caherty, who said she also had protested the previous evening during a book signing at a Wal-Mart store in suburban Virginia. The first of a handful of protesters who showed up before Clinton's arrival, Caherty said she wanted to call attention to the fact that as first lady Clinton had busied herself "covering up for [Bill Clinton's] dalliances" even as she put herself forward as an advocate for women's issues.
But to her fans Hillary is the "It Girl," emoting intelligence and forthrightness. To her detractors, she is the "Get-Over-It Girl," laying out stale liberal orthodoxy couched in practiced moderating euphemisms. Either way, Clinton strikes both definite and disparate chords across the entire symphony of ideological, gender, ethnic and geographic politics. And this is true even in her adopted state of New York. In the latest survey of New York voters conducted by Quinnipiac University, Clinton had the approval of 52 percent of voters there and the disapproval of 36 percent. That is not far removed from the 58 to 37 percent approval rating New Yorkers gave President George W. Bush in the April 15-21 survey. But, in a hypothetical face-off, the poll has Bush defeating Clinton in her own state by 47 percent to 44 percent.
"She is polarizing, there is no question about it. Maybe the great Republican hope will arrive between now and 2006, but I wouldn't put my money on it. She's in good shape in New York" for re-election, says Maurice Carroll, director of Quinnipiac's Polling Institute.
The view from Poughkeepsie is about the same. "What we see with Hillary Clinton is that the same polarization which existed when she became a senator exists right now. Although there have been reports of her trying to develop an image as a low-profile two-year senator, that doesn't necessarily come across to voters across the state. It is really difficult to try and create a second impression," says Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion.
Is Living History likely to change history? Not very much, according to a Quinnipiac poll released June 11. More than 65 percent of respondents said it would have no impact on their opinion of Clinton, while 8 percent were likely to view her more favorably. On the other hand, 18 percent said they were likely to lower their opinion of her as a result of reading the book. Whether respondents actually had read her memoir or just the few passages excerpted in the press, a June 9-10 Gallup survey showed Clinton receiving a 10-point bump from the publicity. The shift in support came entirely from the "no-opinion" column, with the unfavorables being unmoved. …