Barely running to keep seat

With no viable opponent so far, Clinton is resting on her record

June 01, 2006|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

BUFFALO, N.Y. --Six years ago, when she was still trying to prove herself as a viable political figure in her own right, Hillary Rodham Clinton ran a $41 million campaign that included a catchy "listening tour" and flooded the airwaves in a race that dominated the New York political scene for more than a year.

This time around, many of the political trappings have fallen away. Her campaign office in Manhattan is mostly a formality. She has no zippy slogans. Clinton does not even have a campaign manager in New York, a logical vacancy stemming from her lack of any serious opponent.

It is, in essence, the campaign that isn't. Even as Clinton insists she is focused squarely on her re-election this year - not, as so many speculate, on the presidential campaign of 2008 - the junior senator from New York is not running anything like a recognizable race (apart from her huge fundraising apparatus, which itself makes it stand out and which her advisers acknowledge has more to do with preparing for 2008 than 2006).

Thus, when Clinton made an appearance in Buffalo yesterday for her formal nomination by the State Democratic Party - accompanied by her husband, Bill, and daughter, Chelsea - she was not kicking off a blazing campaign tour.

Apart from an 18-minute biographical video to be played at the convention, a series of small parties organized across the state last night, which Clinton was to address in a conference call and a slightly more-strategic-than-usual travel schedule around the state this week, Clinton is planning mostly to just continue doing her job. It is an approach that, her advisers say, has worked for her so far.

Clinton's strategists say she is doing more or less what any other unopposed incumbent would do - and, if anything, is spending more time and money than the other senator from New York, Charles E. Schumer, did in his last race.

At the same time, Clinton's advisers worked diligently to rout her early rivals, like Jeanine Pirro, by exploiting their political missteps and by raising formidable amounts of money to keep more-viable opponents out of the race.

"She's in the same mode as Dianne or Ted Kennedy or any of these people who may have nominal opposition and look in pretty good shape," said Bill Carrick, a Democratic consultant, referring to Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California.

"In 2000, it was important to have a visible campaign presence as a symbol of Hillary's commitment to New York," Ann Lewis, the communications director for Friends of Hillary, her political action committee, said in an e-mail interview. "In 2006, New Yorkers know - because they have seen for themselves - that Hillary is working hard for them. Her hard work as their senator is more important - and a lot more relevant to people's lives." Lewis said that any more of a focus on the campaign itself would distract from the core message - Clinton's six-year history of legislative accomplishments.

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