June 2, 2008— -- Starting in September 2006 and all the way through May of this year, "Nightline" was granted extraordinary access to Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., and her historic candidacy for president in a series of five extensive interviews. As the race for the Democratic nomination winds down, we thought it only fitting to share with you some of the most revealing moments from our time with her.
In the fall of 2006, "Nightline" met up with the junior senator from New York in a tiny upstate New York town. Six years in, she was having a ball, even winning over many upstate voters who traditionally vote Republican.
"I think she's fabulous," said one local Clinton supporter. "I think she's more beautiful in person. But more than her beauty, she's genuine and very intelligent and well-spoken." This supporter was also a Republican.
It was this kind of support that made many think she just might have a clear shot at the presidency. After all those years standing at Bill's side, Clinton seemed to have finally found her own groove.
"I love it. I absolutely love it," she said. "When I started seven years ago, in July of '99, I really wasn't sure that I would like it for me.
"You know, I think that when you've been in the public eye as long as I have, and you are basically viewed through so many different lenses, and there has been kind of a cottage industry in trying to turn me into a caricature of who I am," she said, "I have loved the opportunity in the last seven years in New York for people to get to know me."
If running for president was soon to be in her future, she was too disciplined to say so, at least yet.
"I am not thinking about that at all," she said. "You know, I know everybody else is. And lots of other people are saying, 'Oh, she is, she is.' But the truth is, I don't think about it. I haven't made any decision about it because that's not how I think and how I work."
Back in those days, the main worry was that her husband would upstage her.
And yet, many came to feel that was how her presidential campaign got off on the wrong foot -- a sense of inevitability, of coronation, that she began running for the general election before winning the nomination.
Iraq would be another problem.
"Well, given this administration's track record, they have been nothing but a series of mistakes," she said. "So, even if one could say they made mistakes and they shouldn't have done it, right now, we're in a series of challenging decisions."
By refusing to say her vote to authorize the Iraq War was a mistake, Clinton made many voters feel she was stubborn and unwilling to admit she was wrong. It was a position that may have served her well in the general election, but in the Democratic primary race, it opened a door that Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., walked right through.
For months after declaring her candidacy, Clinton was, indeed, the indisputable front-runner. She concentrated on the big states while Obama blanketed rural Iowa, painting Clinton as the consummate Washington insider -- wrong on the war, divisive and inauthentic.
By the time "Nightline" sat down with her again, it was December 2007, just before the Iowa caucuses. It was clear Clinton knew she was in trouble. She began blitzing the state by helicopter in an attempt to court the rural counties Obama had long ago visited.
This time, she seemed tense, rattled by Obama's surge. The more relaxed Obama seemed, the more tense she became. He began to accuse her of claiming all of the successes of her husband. And none of the failures.
"Well, I understand the point, but it's, it's really beside the point," Clinton said. "I have been very forthright in saying that we weren't successful on health care. The whole world saw that. But I think you know more about someone by seeing how they respond to setbacks than successes.
"In New York, I could meet enough people, I could have a ripple effect offriends talking to friends and family talking to family and, pretty soon, a lot of people creating a critical mass could say, 'Hey, I met her. I got to know her. She's not as bad as I thought.'"
Clinton came in a disappointing third in Iowa, and she was inevitable no more. Now she was playing catch-up, searching for surer ground. Her message seemed to change daily, while Obama's message -- "Change We Can Believe In" -- stayed constant.
But after a remarkable afternoon in New Hampshire, in which the public saw an uncharacteristic flash of emotion, she surprised the pundits and won the primary there.
In her victory speech, she said, "I came to New Hampshire and I found my own voice."
She may have found her voice but her husband's voice soon drowned hers out.
Many black voters felt alienated by comments Bill Clinton made while campaigning in South Carolina, and Obama trounced Clinton in the state's primary by 28 points. "Nightline" caught up with her again in Georgia, just before Super Tuesday.
"Well, I think he is a very passionate promoter and defender of me, and Iappreciate that," she said. "I think we all have spouses who are totally committed to our candidacies.
"But this campaign is about me. It's about what kind of president I willbe, what I will do as president. So, I want everyone who is supporting meto be on the same page about that."
Clinton did well on Super Tuesday -- cashing in the big states -- but not well enough to shut Obama out. In addition, her campaign was broke, while Obama's was flush with cash.
What followed was a veritable electoral slaughter, Obama beat Clinton in 11 contests in a row, many in the smaller caucus states she had ignored.
But still, she persevered. "Nightline" saw her again in Appalachian Ohio, just before the March 4 contest there.
But instead of showing her vulnerable side and admitting she was discouraged, as she'd done in New Hampshire, she was arduously on-message.
"I am good," she said. "I am great. I'm having a terrific time. I mean, from the outside, campaigns look as hectic and grueling as they are, but on the inside, it's really -- it's a really intimate experience in a lot of ways. You feel like you're invited into people's lives in a way that is very precious to me.
She never gave the speech many were waiting for -- the speech on gender, on what it meant to have a woman say she could fill the shoes of the commander in chief.
"I think a lot of women project their own feelings and their lives on to me," she told "Nightline." "And they see how hard this is. It's hard. It's hard being a woman out there. It is obviously challenging with some of the things that are said, that are not even personal to me as much as they are about women. And I think women just sort of shake their heads. My friends do. They say, 'Oh, my gosh, this is so hard.' Well, it's supposed to be hard. I'm running for the hardest job in the world. No one has ever done this. No woman has ever won a presidential primary before I won New Hampshire."
True to form, Clinton did churn out a string of victories in Ohio, Texas and Pennsylvania, winning big among lower income, less educated white voters, which strengthened her case to superdelegates that she was the better candidate in the fall.
When we sat down in Indiana for the last of our interviews, she insisted she was not damaging the party despite repeated calls for her to get out of the race.
"This is just idle talk," she said. "You have to know how to run a campaign that's going to win. I mean, you put my base against my opponent's base, mine's much broader and deeper. And I think that's what's going to matter. When people start asking themselves, who's our better candidate, who can we actually put up against John McCain, you know, it is who can better win, and I've won the big states. I've won the states that we have to anchor. If we had the Republican rules, I would already be the nominee."
This time, instead of seeming exasperated at the uphill battle before her, Clinton, like that September day almost two years earlier, seemed relaxed, as if she were once again having fun.
"When I go up on stage and people are applauding loudly, I want it to end so I can tell them what I would do," she said. "Because I want them to know what it is they're getting with me. So, I know that about myself. I don't try to be anything I'm not. I, you know, I am what I am."
She continued to rack up some big wins, including a stunning victory in Puerto Rico on Sunday, but tonight, on the eve of the final primaries, Obama is only 38 delegates shy of victory while she needs 207. Earlier today, former President Clinton may have tipped us off that the end is in sight.
"I want to say also, that this may be the last day I'm ever involved in a campaign of this kind," he said, while campaigning in South Dakota. "I thought I was out of politics 'til Hillary decided to run. But it has been one of the greatest honors of my life to go around and campaign for her for president."
While she continues to be a polarizing figure to many, no one can say she's not a fighter. She says her father raised her as a fighter.
"But, you know, my father, he was out there throwing football passes to me and teaching me to switch hit in baseball," she recalled. "And he just didn't see any difference between me and my brothers and all the neighborhood kids, and I've often believed that part of the reason that I can make this race for the presidency, that I can withstand all of the incoming fire, is because my dad basically believed in me, he encouraged me, he set high standards for me and he said, 'Look, you have to get out there, you have to stand up for yourself, you have to find your way in the world.' And I miss him, I wish he were around, he would be just speechless, I think."