After a NEWSWEEK cover shoot directed by Simon Barnett at the Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles on Friday, Hillary Clinton was on her way to a nearby union event. One of the questions she fielded there was a fairly common one for Clinton. Do you feel any pressure running to be the first woman president? She replied: "It is truly a great honor. My 88-year-old mother lives with us. She was born before women could vote. If you think about our daughters, of the options and opportunities they have, it's very exciting … [but] I'm not running for president because I am a woman, I'm running because I think I'm the best qualified." It is an argument we'll hear more of as the primaries proceed.
Will Senator Clinton win this week, or in the contests after that, or on Feb. 5 or even beyond? We do not know, and we do not pretend to know. In our view, Clinton is the most consuming story of the moment for many of the same reasons Barack Obama was the story coming out of Iowa: she made not only news but history, becoming the first woman to win the New Hampshire primary. Like Obama, she is a viscerally compelling figure, and our cover on her focuses on the human drama of a woman who, by her own admission, is still struggling to, in her phrase, find her voice. For people with a sense of history, there is nothing soft or sexist or surprising about a candidate or even a president who is still evolving. There is a tendency to want to believe that our leaders are certain of who they are and what they want to do, and some (Ronald Reagan) are like that. But many are not: it seems safe to say that George W. Bush was not fully comfortable with the presidency until the days after September 11, with his remarks at the National Cathedral and his bullhorn exchange with the rescue workers at Ground Zero.
For about a year, we have devoted much of our political coverage to the biographical, on giving you profiles of the characters and experiences of the presidential candidates. In our covers, we have tried to stay out of the impossible practice of predicting the outcome of the horse race. What we can bring you is reporting and analysis on the people and issues at play in the campaign and the forces raising unsettling questions for many Democrats. People who fought against Jim Crow and for women's rights now find themselves having to choose from what Anna Quindlen calls "an embarrassment of riches" in Clinton and Obama. But "choose" is the operative word. As the Rev. Herman Bing, pastor of the Carpentersville Baptist Church in North Augusta, S.C., told Allison Samuels: "I really hate that they had to run at the same time in the same election. It just makes what should be a wonderful situation very stressful for folk like me. I never imagined you could have too much of a good thing."
In our package, we explore how the race—both its immediacy and its fraught and exhilarating issues of history and identity—looks and feels from Hillary Clinton's perspective. She and I sat down in Los Angeles to discuss those and other issues, and Samuels, Karen Breslau, Arian CampoFlores, Raina Kelley, Chris Dixon, Martha Brant and Eleanor Clift talked to political observers about the Clinton camp's challenges. Richard Wolffe, Karen Springen and Sarah Kliff scrub Obama's public record, Dan Gross writes on the politics of the economy, Holly Bailey talks to John McCain, and Michael Isikoff, Mark Hosenball and Evan Thomas report on the shadowy world of dirty tricks and negative campaigning.
In my interview with Clinton, we spoke about the provisional nature of politics. The good and the bad are mixed together, but there is always good. "I believe that we have to be optimistic realists," she said—not a bad view for a politician in the arena.