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Tuesday, September 28, 1999 Published at 08:09 GMT 09:09 UK

World: Americas

Hillary steps out of Bill's shadow

The covers of magazines have been covered with Hillary Clinton

By Washington Correspondent Philippa Thomas

She is followed everywhere in New York by camera crews. She has been the cover girl for Newsweek, Time and Vogue.

Philippa Thomas: A powerful woman beginning to rival her man
She has been written up in Esquire magazine as an American sex symbol and described in breathless terms as a woman with "glow, radiance and dazzle" in her eyes.

It is not bad publicity for a Hillary Clinton, who has not even launched her official campaign to be elected senator from New York.

But then the American press has never before dealt with a first lady running for election in her own right, and this first lady has always been 'good copy', a newsmaker, a source of political controversy.

Rough start

[ image: Bill Clinton is working on his role as supportive husband]
Bill Clinton is working on his role as supportive husband
Hillary Rodham Clinton provoked nothing but hostility with her first attempt to flex her political muscles in Washington.

On the campaign trail for the '92 election, voters recoiled from the idea that with the Clintons, you get "two for the price of one".

Traditionalists were outraged by Hillary's comments that she did not intend to stay home and bake cookies.

Click here to listen to Kenneth Starr's interview with BBC Today Programme
The high-powered lawyer and activist had to shift gears, and take on the public role of adoring political wife.

Once in the White House, the new first lady sought again to contribute.

She poured heart, soul and government resources into a thorough review of America's expensive private health care system.

It was over-ambitious, it was fiercely opposed in Congress, and it failed.

Third time

[ image: New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani could prove a tough opponent]
New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani could prove a tough opponent
Could it be third time lucky now?

This time, Hillary Clinton can brush aside taunts about being "the power behind the throne".

She is out there as her own woman. She has kept up her causes from health reform to human rights. And she has learned valuable campaign lessons from seven years in the White House.

Hotter than her husband

In political terms, today's Hillary Clinton is very hot property, and her husband the president is first to admit it.

At a ritzy dinner in Washington last week, Bill Clinton applauded from the wings while Hillary received a Democracy Award for her work encouraging women around the world to become politically active.

The first lady's husband reminisced about a meeting they had both attended in Senegal last year. In came all those women, he said, with their token male supporters, and as the audience laughter rose, he smiled ruefully, "I'm getting used to that".

Political initiation

Of course, it will get tougher from here on in.

There have already been some stumbles as the Clinton campaign begins to woo New York voters.

[ image: The only question is when the Senate race will begin in earnest]
The only question is when the Senate race will begin in earnest
Mrs Clinton has had to back down from her vocal support for a Palestinian state.

She has also raised eyebrows by vigorously opposing freedom for jailed Puerto Rican nationalists, at the exact time the president was offering them clemency.

What is more, her very position as a candidate for the US Senate has outraged many conservatives.

Some believe the first lady is exploiting her position as the victim of the Monica Lewinsky affair and using her popularity as the wronged wife to create a springboard for her personal ambitions.

Other critics focus on political substance. They say that Hillary Clinton has never cast a legislator's vote, never lived in New York State, and so has no record and no right to run for the coveted senator's office.

Fits and starts

It is clearly going to be a high-energy, high-stakes, constant-headlines battle. The question is, when will it begin?

The press is at fever pitch. The dollars are pouring in, and Democrats in New York are impatient to get started.

But here in Washington Hillary Clinton has made no move to appoint a campaign manager or to make the formal declaration.

We are stuck at the warm up stage. The big race still to come.

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