Hillary Clinton Weekend Debates: No Buildup and a Sign of Her Strength

Hillary Rodham Clinton's path to re-election as a Democratic senator from New York will barely register two speed bumps this weekend as she engages in a pair of low-profile debates with her overwhelmed Republican opponent, John Spencer.

The ease with which Clinton is expected to be returned to office -- after the drama of her White House years and the roller-coaster ride that led to her election to her first public office in 2000 -- is reflected in the lack of buildup in advance of the debates, as well as the failure of national Republicans to recruit a strong candidate to run against her.

Clinton, widely seen as the leading Democrat for the party's 2008 presidential nomination, still faces the high level of scrutiny that comes with being a former first lady and a prominent political personality in her own right.

And several controversies, such as her vote in support of the Iraq war and liberal distrust of her positions on some social issues, keep Clinton and her political advisers at their usual extreme level of vigilance.

A Share of Problems, But Almost None GOP-Inflicted

If Clinton has her regular share of problems that come with the constant attention she receives, almost none of them have been inflicted by the Republican and conservative enemies who made her life so miserable in the 1990s.

Just as Democrats failed to stop George W. Bush from building up a head of steam toward the White House in winning overwhelming re-election in his 1998 campaign as governor of Texas, Republicans have done nothing to bloody or even distract Clinton from emerging in November as well positioned as anyone in either party to be elected president in 2008.

To use an old Arkansas expression, if you see a turtle on a fence post, you know it didn't get there by itself.

Clinton's political strength is the product of design and hard work, not luck.

Polls still illustrate that Clinton is a deeply polarizing figure, who in many ways unites her enemies more than she unifies her allies.

In general, though, she has reclaimed her public image from its disastrous status in the 1990s.

At a time of extreme divisions in politics, Clinton has formed more bipartisan coalitions than almost anyone else in Washington, working with, among others, Newt Gingrich, Tom DeLay, and Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, one of the most conservative members of Congress.

Republican officials respect her work ethic and offer words of praise that often confound their own grass-roots followers.

The 'Right' Choice

Although Clinton's standing in the Senate has deterred some of the particularly scurrilous attacks that pierced her in the past, she has replaced Sen. Edward Kennedy and former President Clinton as the bete noire of choice for the far right.

These forces have powerful financial and political incentives to make her the iconic face of the Democratic Party.

The language used about her on the Internet, in books, in fundraising appeals, on the campaign trail, on talk radio, and on TV is pervasive and personal enough to make a shock jock blush.

These assaults may wound her privately at times, but she has become a warrior who is tough and realistic about the political violence she would encounter in a presidential campaign.

Clinton closely watched the methods used by the right to usurp the public images of Al Gore and John Kerry.

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