Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., has all the hallmarks of a clearcut favorite to win the Democratic nomination for president in 2008. She enjoys nearly universal name recognition, focuses on high-profile issues and, perhaps most importantly, has the ability to raise a lot of cash. But there is a massive amount of ground to cover before she can allow visions of settling back into 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. to dance in her head.
First up is her Senate reelection campaign. In a development that could spice up the 2006 race, two antiwar candidates have announced they will challenge Clinton for the Democratic nomination in New York next year.
Former National Writers Union president Jonathan Tasini and former Green Party member Steven Greenfield are hoping to tap into the party's liberal base in this dark blue state. One of their primary tasks will be to reshape the popular perception of Clinton's ideological makeup and to portray her as out of step with New Yorkers. They may have some cause for optimism in this effort.
"She has a reputation as a strong liberal, which is at variance with her background, her agreement with her husband on most issues and most of her policies in the Senate," said Brookings Institute Senior Fellow Thomas Mann.
Clinton, who as a senator has tried to steer for the center, could now find herself glancing over her left shoulder rather than her right one. How she responds to this antiwar challenge next year could have a direct impact on how she and other Oval Office aspirants position themselves leading up to 2008.
"I started this campaign feeling very strongly that a majority of New Yorkers are with us on the issues," said one of the antiwar candidates, Tasini, in a phone interview. "While this is obviously a huge task to take on a very visible incumbent with high name recognition, I think that we're where the New Yorkers are."
In Tasini's former role as president of the National Writers Union, he gained visibility as the plaintiff in a landmark Supreme Court case. The nation's high court ruled in June 2001 that the New York Times and other publishers had violated freelance writers' rights by publishing their print pieces electronically without permission.
The platform of Tasini's Senate campaign is focused squarely on Iraq. He says that the troops should be brought home now and hopes to channel the energy he has seen develop in the national grassroots movement against the war.
"Murtha certainly captured it. Cindy Sheehan has captured it," he said. "There are various local places where people are capturing it, and I hope to capture that here in New York."