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 You are in: Special Report: 1998: 09/98: US midterms  
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US midterms Wednesday, 4 November, 1998, 13:36 GMT
Hillary: America's most popular politician
Hillary Clinton
Hillary for president...?
By Washington Correspondent Tom Carver

[an error occurred while processing this directive]In the final days of campaigning, Hubert Humphrey the III - son of the one time Democratic presidential candidate - is like most candidates.

The Democrat is working overtime to try to win the last few votes he hopes will put him over the top in his bid to become the next Governor of Minnesota.

He's running so late that no one on his staff knows where they are on the schedule. But there is one appointment this candidate won't miss. The First Lady, Hillary Clinton, is coming to town.

She's part of a manic final drive to get out the vote on behalf of Democratic candidates. She has swept through 20 states in as many days, looking more like Victory than the "wronged woman." Hillary Clinton is America's most popular politician. She's never been elected to any office, but she has a higher approval rating than either her husband or any republican leader.

More Democrats wanted her to share their platform than the President. It's not hard to see why. Invite Bill Clinton to your state, and you get hecklers calling for his resignation and a lot of awkward questions shouted by journalists.

But no one dares to ask Hillary about Monica Lewinsky. As one party official said, "she's bullet-proof."

Hillary Clinton
Sticking by her man earned Hillary the respect of many women voters
On both sides of the political divide, 72% of Americans admire her courage and the way she's handled herself during the last few months. Her popularity allows her a free rein to concentrate on the issues and not the scandal.

The Monica Lewinsky furore has been devastating for Hillary Clinton personally but profitable politically. It's helped turn around her image.

In the last mid-term elections of 1994, Democrats did their best to hide the First Lady from public view. Party leaders were embarrassed by the fiasco of Health Care reform, which Hillary Clinton headed.

Republicans derisively dubbed her "co-president" and said she held undue sway in her husband's decisions. Four years later, she's been dubbed the "campaigner in chief ".

Her husband's well publicised problems could have spilled over and affected her political fortunes, but Republicans have remained silent, sensing that an attack on Mrs Clinton would risk a greater backlash from scandal-weary voters.

With the exception of a flurry of last minute ads Republicans crafted to remind voters of the scandal, Republicans have avoided mentioning President Clinton's problems during the campaign. When it comes to Hillary, Republicans have had little effect.

A first for a First Lady, Mrs Clinton has cut more than 100 political ads for candidates all over the country, and she's made countless appearances for candidates in the days leading up the midterm elections.

The Minnesota appearance with Mr Humphrey is just one of these appearances. Middle class families and their children have packed Minneapolis' State Theatre.

Sticking by her man - something she once scoffed at having to do - has won her the respect of millions of women.

Debra O'Connor, her elderly mother and their friends came to see the First Lady. One of O'Connor's friends expresses the sentiment of the group when she says of Mrs Clinton, "after all she's been through, I admire the way she continues to do her job day after day."

Hillary and Bill Clinton
The first lady has a higher approval rating than either her husband or any Republican leader
Women are a crucial swing bloc for both parties. These women tend not to vote a straight ticket. With a turnout below 50 percent expected, these floating voters could make the difference in many states, and Democrats hope that Hillary's appearance could make the difference to them. Setting herself apart from other politicians, her style is direct and blunt, and in the Minneapolis audience, she's greeted with cries of "Hillary for president."

The Lewinsky crisis has increased the pressure on the First Lady to begin a political career of her own. Whether she does or not is likely to strongly influenced by what happens to her husband over the coming months.

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Tom Carver on the Democrats' most formidable weapon
Links to more US midterms stories are at the foot of the page.


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