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Jewish World Review Feb. 9, 2000 /3 Adar I, 5760

Linda Chavez

Linda Chavez
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Let the fun begin -- THERE'S NO TURNING BACK for Hillary Rodham Clinton, now that she's officially announced her candidacy for the U.S. Senate seat from New York. But as one who's been there, I can assure Hillary she may have plenty of second thoughts in the months ahead.

While certainly no first lady, I, too, left the White House to run for the Senate, in 1986. I was the director of public liaison -- at the time, the top job held by a woman in the White House -- when I declared my candidacy for an open Senate seat from Maryland. Believe me, the move from a prestigious office in the West Wing to grubby campaign headquarters (and if it's not grubby, the candidate is wasting her precious campaign dollars) is a tough one. One day, everyone's your friend because they need favors from you. The next day, you.'re the one in need of everyone's good will -- and their money. It's a humbling experience.

No doubt, Hillary will have an easier time raising money than most Senate candidates. After all, she's learned from a master, her man, Bill. But it's still hard to imagine she'll enjoy spending nearly every waking hour making phone calls begging for money. Granted, she won't have to waste time explaining who she is and what she's running for, as most candidates must.

But who could possibly take pleasure in calling up total strangers to ask them to write $1,000 checks? Hillary needs to raise $25 million to have any chance of winning the race. That's 25,000 $1,000 contributions -- a whole lot of phone calls.

Then, there's the problem of trying to get the press to cover the issues. Hillary says she wants to focus on such things as health care and education, but that's not what sells newspapers or increases TV ratings. The press will be more interested in portraying the race as a grudge match between her and her likely Republican opponent, New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, than in covering their substantive differences on policy.

For one thing, the reporters who cover politics are rarely the same ones who cover policy. When she outlines her plan to provide health coverage to the uninsured, for example, she may find that reporters would rather focus on her controversial role in health-care reform in 1993. In order to write about health care per se, the reporter might actually have to understand something about the issue, but he can do a quick Internet search to rehash Hillary's earlier health-care debacle.

Coming up with dirt on the candidate is the political reporter's favorite pastime -- and they get plenty of help from the candidates enemies, friends, acquaintances, even total strangers who are willing to pass on gossip. As first lady,
Hillary Clinton has had a protective coterie around her to deal with the press -- and besides, reporters have a tendency to treat any president's family with more consideration than they do him. But as a candidate, Hillary will be fair game for every person with a political or personal ax to grind.

And then, there's the sheer drudgery of campaigning -- endless appearances, saying the same thing over and over, shaking hands until they ache, smiling so hard you feel as if the muscles will become frozen in a grotesque grin. Sure, Hillary's done it all before, each time Bill ran. But there's no comparison between being the candidate's spouse and being the candidate. Remember the flap when Hillary snapped at a reporter in the 1992 campaign that maybe she could have "stayed home and baked cookies" instead of being a high-powered lawyer? That kind of patronizing remark could cost a female candidate the election, but not her spouse. Hillary will have to watch her tongue carefully over the next several months.

But the worst part will come if she continues to fall further behind her opponent in the polls. Running for office is one of the most grueling marathons anyone can undertake, and when you're behind -- and losing ground -- it's just plain not fun. Hillary could be spending the last year of Bill Clinton's presidency enjoying the honor of being the nation's first lady. Instead, she may end up just another underdog candidate in a losing campaign.

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©1999, Creators Syndicate