Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

First Lady Brings Light - and Heat - to Campaign

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

First Lady Brings Light - and Heat - to Campaign

Article excerpt

The four-masted schooner glides up to the pier, its most famous occupant waving both hands high above her head, first to the boatload of Clinton-Gore supporters behind her, then to the cheering crowd awaiting her on land.

This is Hillary Rodham Clinton's moment, the first of many during convention week, when the president's wife has a fresh chance in the national spotlight - and in the warmth of her native Chicago - to soften the edges of her image.

Among America's first ladies, Mrs. Clinton is one who sought to redefine the office. She offers a sharp contrast to the behind-the-scenes influence wielded by former first ladies - and the public nature of her involvement in policymaking has engendered admiration as well as animosity.

For her efforts, she has earned the dubious distinction of being the least popular first lady in the history of modern polling. The latest Gallup survey shows 48 percent of voters see her unfavorably, compared with 47 percent who view her favorably. Even if this point is likely to have little bearing on her husband's reelection bid, her role during the convention and the campaign remains a point of interest.

Tonight, when Mrs. Clinton speaks before the Democratic National Convention, she will face the inevitable comparisons to Elizabeth Dole's boffo Oprah-style performance at the Republican convention two weeks ago. But campaign aides and political analysts play down the Hillary vs. Liddy angle, suggesting instead that Mrs. Clinton's task is to be herself and not be defensive.

"She will speak at the podium," asserted Democratic Party co-chair Don Fowler at a Monitor breakfast here, putting to rest speculation that Mrs. Clinton may venture onto the convention floor to speak as Mrs. Dole did in San Diego.

But beyond the easy comparisons, Mrs. Clinton must maintain an upbeat demeanor and keep her frustrations to herself during the campaign. "She's been chased by Republicans and has lost it; she reacts," says James Rosebush, ex-chief of staff to former first lady Nancy Reagan. "Mrs. Clinton should show her best attributes," he continues, noting her intelligence and her own skill as a speaker. "She has almost as important a job to do in her speech as Bob Dole did with his. Dole had to face down a lot of images of himself."

Mrs. Clinton's image problems started before she took up residence in the White House, when candidate Clinton promised two presidents for the price of one. (Bob Dole, it should be noted, is on the record making the same proud comment during one of his previous presidential campaigns, before such a notion became heresy.) Mrs. Clinton's role at the center of a series of scandals and flaps - from Whitewater to the White House travel office - in addition to her ill-fated effort to reform the nation's health-care system have made her a lightning rod of criticism. …

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