Asked about political chatter that Hillary might enter the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, ex-President Clinton volunteered, "That's a decision for her to make."
And that has set the cat down among the pigeons.
For, presumably, Hillary had already decided. And the answer was an unqualified "no." During the 2000 election, and again and again since, she has pledged to New Yorkers she will serve out her full Senate term and run for re-election in 2006.
Why may the Clintons be taking another look at 2004?
First, no clear front-runner has emerged from the Democratic field. Second, polls show Hillary would be the strongest candidate Democrats could run against President Bush and she could win the nomination. A Quinnipiac survey, taken before Gen. Wesley Clark entered, showed Hillary would snag 45 percent of the Democratic primary vote, with her nine rivals in single digits.
Third, centrist Democrats appear alarmed that Howard Dean could be painted by the Bush campaign in such lurid colors that Democrats could suffer the kind of thrashing in 2004 they took during the Reagan Decade. In three presidential elections in the 1980s, Democrats never once won more than 10 states. Against an incumbent Reagan in 1984, they won Minnesota and the District of Columbia.
The big impediment in the way of a Hillary run is her solemn pledge not to run. Breaking his pledge back in Arkansas in 1991 did not faze Bill, but it apparently does bother the former first lady.
But Bill is out testing the water for her, saying publicly he has run into New Yorkers who would readily release Hillary from her pledge, if she would save the country from George Bush. But then, it was not Bill or those New Yorkers who made the commitment to serve out her term.
Another sign the Clintons are considering a run is the presence of numerous old Clinton-Gore hands in the Clark campaign. Of the general himself, Bill says, "He is brilliant, he is brave, he is good, and he has a sack full of guts."
Is Wesley Clark a placeholder for Hillary? Is his campaign the recruiting office for her campaign? And is his reward to be the vice presidential nomination, or secretary of state or defense, in a Hillary Rodham Clinton administration?