By Dick Morris
June 06, 2005
She now is seen favorably by 52 percent of the electorate and unfavorably by only 37 percent. In the 4 1/2 years since she left the White House, her favorability rating had never before risen above 47 percent.
These ratings are truly a landmark for her: Only very rarely did her popularity rise to the 50 percent mark during her eight years as first lady.
The trend is instructive. On Jan. 10, 2001, one week before she left the White House - and a week after she was sworn in as senator - her favorability rose to 52 percent. Then, amid accusations of the sale of pardons, the theft of the White House china, and her overt solicitation of gifts, Hillary went into free fall. Her favorability dropped to 44 percent that February, and to an all-time low of 39 percent in March.
Then Hillary began, slowly to recover her popularity, rising to 44 percent in November of 2001 and 47 percent on April 25-26 of this year. Then, suddenly, she jumped to 52 percent in the Fox News poll taken on June 14-15.
Why the surge?
It seems that as the prospect of a presidential candidacy nears, Democrats are rallying around her. Right after Election Day last year, 40 percent of them wanted her to be the nominee in 2008. Today, 44 percent support her for the nomination. (At the same time, John Kerry has fallen from 21 percent to 17 percent and John Edwards dropped from 15 percent to 13 percent).
Hillary's move to the center - including her frequent association, in public, with the likes of Newt Gingrich, Bill Frist and Rick Santorum - is clearly paying dividends. It is also likely that Bill Clinton's constant appearances with President Bush Sr. and his highly visible efforts for the tsunami victims are helping rehabilitate his wife's image.
The linkage between Bill's and Hillary's images is apparent. In the Fox News poll, 38 percent of voters, including the vast bulk of Democrats, said that they would be "enthusiastic" about seeing Bill return to the White House as "first husband." (Of course, 33 percent said they were more frightened by the prospect.)
Hillary's and Bill's surges are largely due to the complicity of leading Republicans in implicitly endorsing her move to the center by appearing with her. President Bush needs to get his father to pull back on his public bobsey-twins identification with Bill and Republicans need to let Gingrich et al know of their displeasure with his newfound best-buddy relationship with Hillary.
Those who feel that America is not ready to vote for Hillary need to think again. As the prospect of her candidacy nears, her ratings are going up, not down.
However, all is not rosy on the Clinton horizon. The Ed Klein book - with its alleged revelations of Bill's current philandering - puts Hillary in a tough spot. Of course, his lack of fidelity does not bear on her qualifications to be a good president, but with the charges in the political ether, she has to deal with them. If she pretends not to notice, she looks like a fool at best and a conniving politician who values power more than having a good marriage at worst.
But if she moves away from Bill in public, she loses the stardust he sprinkles on her. The prospect of seeing him return to the White House is clearly a key part of Hillary's current popularity; she dares not put that in jeopardy.
Eileen McGann contributed to this column.
Look for his new book, "Because He Could" about Bill Clinton.
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