Read Excerpt: 'Game Change' by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin

It was the book tour that got the ball rolling inside Clinton's head. Everywhere she went, people kept telling her she should run, that she was the only Democrat with a hope of defeating George W. Bush. And not just people, but important people— elected officials, big-dollar donors, Fortune 500 chieftains. They were in a panic about the party's extant crop of candidates: Kerry was in single digits in the polls and so broke he would have to lend his campaign money; Dick Gephardt was past his sell-by date, John Edwards was an empty suit, Joe Lieberman a retread. The only one catching on was former Vermont governor Howard Dean, whom the party bigwigs saw as too hot, too left, and too weak to stand a chance in a general election.

Hillary agreed with all of that, especially the part about Dean's unelectability. The Bush machine would chew him up and spit him out, then trample on his remains. She also knew that every public poll with her name in the mix had her within striking distance of the incumbent— and trouncing everyone in the Democratic field by thirty points. Oh, sure, her name recognition accounted for much of that lead. Even so! Thirty points! Without lifting a finger!

Hillary was aware, too, that the notion of her running was gaining traction within Clintonworld. For weeks that summer, Steve Ricchetti, who had served as Bill's deputy White House chief of staff and remained one of his closest political hands, could be heard arguing to anyone in earshot that Hillary faced a Bobby Kennedy moment—in which a terrible war, a torn electorate, and a president who had squandered his chance to unify the nation presented a historic opportunity. Maggie Williams, Hillary's former White House chief of staff and a paragon of caution, was open to the idea; she saw the nomination and the White House there for the taking. Solis Doyle was more than open: She'd been posting to the HillPAC website a stream of emails from supporters begging Hillary to get in. And now Patti was telling her boss that Mark Penn and Mandy Grunwald said that if Clinton was considering entering the race, some systematic steps were in order, and they were ready to help her take them.

Hillary was surprised. Though both Penn and Grunwald were longtime members in good standing of the Clinton high command, they were currently working on Lieberman's campaign, Penn as its pollster and Grunwald as its media consultant.

"You know how terribly unethical this is?" Solis Doyle said to Clinton.

Of course she did—but Hillary was interested in their pitch, and she couldn't help but love the loyalty and devotion it showed to her cause.

Between the public polls and the shenanigans on the website, speculation in the media was mounting about a Clinton bid. Hillary's public posture was unwavering: not gonna happen. At the New York State Fair in Albany that August she told an Associated Press reporter, "I am absolutely ruling it out."

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