Setting Off On Her Own

The Democratic donors packed Victor and Sarah Kovner's Manhattan living room, spilling into the apartment next door. For up to $1,000 apiece, they got wine, snacks and a chance to sing "If I Had a Hammer" with Peter Yarrow (of Peter, Paul and Mary). The political star attraction, Hillary Rodham Clinton, sobered things up with a talk on health care, education and the perils of tax cuts. But some of the guests had a more practical question in mind: after her three-month "listening tour" of New York state, when would she finally announce her run for the U.S. Senate? Hillary repeated what she had told reporters earlier: "If I were leaning any further, I'd fall over."

If she's just leaning, it is because Hillary is convinced that it is still too early to run. Last week she took another step, filing a statement of candidacy with the Federal Election Commission (something her also-unannounced opponent, New York City's Republican Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, did last spring). She plans no formal announcement until early in the new year. Why the wait? She wants a head start raising the $25 million that she believes it will take to win. The First Lady also needs time to tune up her political act--something she learned last month, when she endorsed her husband's decision to grant clemency to Puerto Rican terrorists, then had to back away when the offer enraged many New York voters. That was the moment, says one confidant, when Hillary realized she would have to think like a candidate, not the president's wife. "It was a good lesson," says one insider.

A picture of her loosely structured team is emerging. Harold Ickes, the blunt-spoken former deputy White House chief of staff, has rounded up support and masterminded strategy so far, but he will not drop his law practice to manage the campaign full time. Mandy Grunwald, a veteran of Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign and Daniel Patrick Moynihan's Senate bids, will lead the media team. Hillary's soulmate and former chief of staff, Maggie Williams, talks strategy by phone from Paris. And pollster Mark Penn, dropped from Vice President Al Gore's presidential campaign, will crunch numbers.

Behind the scenes, Mrs. Clinton is struggling to balance her candidacy with her duties as First Lady. In the White House, some of her aides (who make up "Hillaryland") lament that she now has little time for personal chats. Yet in an office that's no stranger to subpoenas, nervous aides separate the campaign from official business, careful not to violate laws that prohibit politicking with government resources.

One adviser can't stay out of the Senate fray. Aides have noticed that Bill Clinton is suddenly conversant in obscure topics like upstate New York energy costs. The president's friend and top fund-raiser, businessman Terence McAuliffe, is helping Hillary fill her coffers. She can lean on all the experts, but eventually Hillary will have to stand on her own.

Setting Off On Her Own | News