The Presidential stampede

The moment every American with even a casual interest in politics knew was coming has come: Hillary Rodham Clinton, current U.S. senator and former first lady, is running for president.

Technically, she announced formation of an exploratory committee, but the video on her Web site, “Hillary for President,” was titled “I’m In.” and, she says, “I’m in to win.” In the video she was warm, low-key and conversational, and it was well received by the political pros.

What was interesting was the muted reaction from the Republican right. When she left the White House and moved to New York, the right jeered and taunted her and urged her to run for president because they would … they would … well, they never said what they would do except it was going to be bad. She was a polarizing harridan against whom the Republicans would rally, that’s what.

Now one hears the sounds of bets being hedged. Clinton proved to be a methodical, disciplined politician, fearsome fund-raiser and an effective senator. She raised more than $30 million to win Senate re-election despite having no serious opposition. Her presidential run shows evidence of being similarly meticulous and well thought out. And the Clinton administration, fairly or unfairly, is looking better in retrospect.

Instead of the easy target they expected, Republicans are beginning to get the queasy notion that Hillary Clinton could indeed be the nation’s first female president. True, there seems no middle ground on Clinton. She has exceptionally high negatives — 44 percent in a recent poll — but she also has twice the support among Democrats as the next leading candidate.

She is that magnitude of celebrity that she can get by with just her first name. Maybe former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani among the Republicans, and soon maybe Barack Obama among the Democrats. The Illinois senator is shaping up at this early, early date as perhaps Clinton’s most serious opponent, a great speaker, handsome, compelling resume, said to draw crowds like a rock star — and woefully short on experience.

There is no lack of candidates lining up to take Clinton on. The Associated Press counts 18 Democrats and Republicans running for president, and another eight contemplating making the leap.