Linda Chavez

Few people doubt Hillary's leadership qualities. She is a commanding presence and sounds authoritative, even if you don't agree with her. But she can also come across as aloof, calculating and ruthless. And this is her Achilles' heel.

Hillary has done a lot to try to soften her image over the past few years, from wearing pastels to smiling effusively. This week she even enlisted her mother, Dorothy Rodham, and daughter, Chelsea, to campaign with her, as if to remind voters that she, too, is a mother and a daughter, not just a presidential candidate.

Hillary's balancing act worked better when she was way ahead in the polls. She could afford to remain above the fray so as not to come off as hard and overly ambitious. But as her poll numbers slip, she's having a harder time maintaining that balance.

True character is always more transparent when times are tough than when things are going well. As Hillary Clinton faces a real challenge from Barack Obama, voters will have the chance to judge her as she really is, not as her handlers and advisers have tried to mold her for the broadest appeal.

But if this week's gutter sniping at Obama is any indication, voters won't like what they see. And even if her campaign harms her Democratic opponent in the process, Hillary may inflict the worst damage on herself.

Linda Chavez

Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .

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