Let’s talk about the most interesting “H” word in national politics — Hillary.

Is she running for president?

Most signs indicate she is, even though The New York Times is aghast that she has a little less than $14 million on hand with which to launch her campaign, in contrast to the $36 million she spent to win reelection this month. (She won against a virtually unknown candidate with 67 percent of the vote.)

As she coyly says, she is weighing her options and concentrating on being a good senator. These are reasons why political observers are convinced she will run.

She has regular meetings with those with deep pockets for funding Democratic political campaigns and reportedly has assurances from most of them they will back her. This — raising money — is the most important step on the ladder to launching a national presidential campaign.

She has kept ties with some of the players who helped put her husband in the White House, but she has formed her own team, loyal only to her. She pays them big salaries, and while ostensibly they have helped her with her Senate campaigns, many seem to be looking mainly at the bigger picture — 2008.

She spent about $2.5 million helping other Democrats win this year, assuring loyalty and the use of their machinery if and when she enters the 2008 race. She is liked and admired in the Senate, where she is considered a worker bee, not a limelight hog, by many who once disliked her.

She is hard working and well organized and has earned plaudits for her work for New York. She also is incredibly ambitious, having the proverbial fire in the belly to win. She wants to go down in history as the first woman president. She will turn 61 just before Election Day, 2008. She runs now or probably never.

She has moved steadily toward the middle, away from some of the more liberal stands she once took, knowing the country will not elect a fringe presidential candidate. Aware, too, that Americans are wary of a female commander in chief, she has never condemned going to war in Iraq, for which she voted, but has reserved her criticism for the conduct of the war by the Bush administration. She supports a law banning flag burning, anathema to liberals.

She has made major speeches on the Senate floor on most of the issues facing this country, including on energy dependence, Medicare solvency, environmental pollution and health care. After 9/11, she fought hard for money for homeland security.

She has daily help from a brilliant political strategist, Bill Clinton, who touts her everywhere he goes. Two-thirds of Americans say the Clinton years were good ones for the country.

But the same political seers also think there are many reasons why Hillary Clinton could win the Democratic nomination and lose the general election to a Republican such as Rudy Giuliani or John McCain or another candidate such as the less well-known Mitt Romney, governor of Massachusetts.

She is one of the nation’s most polarizing figures. As much as the liberal left wing used to love her (many now are furious with her support for invading Iraq), the conservative right wing despises her. In a divided country, a national candidate must pull votes not only from the growing independent base but also from the other party. Few Republicans say they’d vote for her, whereas many Democrats say they would consider voting for a Republican such as McCain or Giuliani.

She has competition from half a dozen of her fellow senators, including the charming newcomer, Barack Obama from Illinois, who has denounced the war in Iraq, is considered a pragmatic middle-of-the-roader and would draw black voters away from her. Former senator John Edwards is also running hard, as are several governors. And, Americans have not elected a sitting U.S. senator to the White House in more than 40 years.

Her husband can be an asset — or a liability. He is a star but still carries scandal baggage. He regularly upstages his wife, sometimes making her seem something of a shrew. While she is warm and funny with staff and friends, that is not her public persona. The nature of their marriage would undoubtedly be campaign fodder.

Hillary is under pressure to announce her decision to run or not to run early next year. Whatever she decides, the whole world will be talking about it.

(Scripps Howard columnist Ann McFeatters has covered the White House and national politics since 1986. E-mail amcfeatters(at)hotmail.com.)

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