Clinton masters juggling as senator and candidate

Among the six senators running for president, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton has emerged as the juggler supreme.

She's kept up an ambitious travel schedule that often exceeds most of her rivals by relying on a highly organized campaign that orchestrates events designed to maximize her exposure.

At the same time, she has remained in the nation's capital for important Senate floor votes and used the Washington media spotlight to criticize the policies of an unpopular Republican president.

In fact, in the first nine months of this year — dating back to a Jan. 8 resolution honoring the late President Gerald Ford — New York's junior senator missed only 32 of 357 votes, or about 9%, according to Gannett News Service research. That's significantly fewer missed votes than her five colleagues running for president, although among the 100 members she ranked 10th for most absences.

"The one thing we've all said about Senator Clinton and the campaign is, they don't make any mistakes," said Stuart Rothenberg, publisher of the non-partisan Rothenberg Political Report. "They are heavily into planning and anticipating problems. They are cautious. It's a very elaborate, well-oiled campaign. This is further evidence of that."

Steffen Schmidt, a political science professor at Iowa State University, said Clinton's well-financed campaign allows her the luxury of flying back and forth from the campaign trail to Washington. Clinton's $27 million in third-quarter fundraising — $20 million of it for the Democratic primary — outpaced her rivals.

"I also have a feeling Hillary Clinton is a very well put together, organized lawyer who just doesn't like the idea of missing important things," Schmidt said.

The senator with the second fewest missed votes — Democratic Sen. Barack Obama Illinois — has been absent for 90 votes. That's nearly three times as many as Clinton.

Obama's spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, said he "continues to work hard on behalf of the people of Illinois" and has been playing a leadership role in recent lobbying reform legislation and congressional efforts to end the war in Iraq.

Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona has missed the most. With polls showing him trailing in fourth place among the GOP candidates and his campaign behind in the race for cash, he's been absent for 182 votes — about 51% — while making a bid to revive his flagging campaign with time-consuming travel through small towns in New Hampshire and Iowa.

Among the other three senators running for president, Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., missed 97 votes, Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., missed 105, and Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., missed 131.

Four presidential candidates — Biden, Brownback, Obama and McCain — missed last week's Senate vote to renew and expand a federal-state health insurance program for children.

Clinton, meanwhile, was not only present for the Senate vote but also appeared on CNN and other TV programs to discuss her support for expanding health coverage to millions of uninsured children and to criticize the president's threatened veto. She also did a telephone conference call with reporters in Iowa, telling the media in the state with the nation's first presidential caucus why children's health coverage is important to her.

And on the Sunday leading up to the vote on the State Children's Health Insurance Program, Clinton appeared on five nationally televised talk programs from the comfort of her home in Chappaqua, N.Y., eschewing the normal practice where the guest travels to the TV studio for the interview.

When Clinton has traveled as a candidate, the stops are carefully selected and choreographed.

"We don't count how many days she's been here," said Schmidt of Iowa State University. "When she's been here, there has been enormous media hype about it."

On one recent Monday, Clinton spoke at a candidates' forum in Chicago sponsored by the laborers union and then flew to Des Moines for a 10:30 a.m. announcement of her proposal for universal health care.Although her stay in Iowa was short, the health care announcement generated newspaper headlines and TV news coverage. And she was able to hold closed-door, one-on-one meetings afterward with the hospital's administrators and meet separately with unionized nurses before heading to the airport.

Likewise, the day before Clinton maximized her time by being the last of six Democratic presidential candidates to stop shaking hands and greeting some of the 12,000 to 15,000 Democrats who attended an outdoor fundraiser for Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin.

"I can't meet her too often, I like her so well," Mary McGee, a Des Moines attorney said moments after Clinton's Iowa senior adviser steered the candidate to McGee, who was one of hundreds of people squeezed together on the other side of chain-link fence, trying to get Clinton's attention.

McGee, who is legally blind, is chairwoman of the disabilities caucus for the Iowa Democratic Party and a volunteer for Clinton's campaign.

"We try and point out people who have endorsed, but equally important people have been volunteering and people who are still undecided," said Teresa Vilmain, Clinton's Iowa campaign director. "It's a way to do a meeting, but it's on a rope line. So it's just a different way connecting her with potential caucus-attenders and known caucus-attenders."

That particular day, Vilmain said she worked one side while Clinton's state senior adviser, JoDee Winterhof, worked the other side. Former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack and his wife, Christie, also helped.

"At the same point in time, we get out our supporter cards and those are cards for people who are going to caucus for us and get them to sign," said Vilmain, who worked for Vilsack's 2008 short-lived presidential campaign before joining Clinton's team in June. "That's one of the best places for us to get people to sign up to support her."