Hillary Starts Her Campaign for Prez

Democratic Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, considered a likely presidential contender in 2008, told supporters of her 2006 Senate reelection bid on Monday that America can no longer “give in” to the Republican agenda.

The administration of President Bush wants to stifle debate and suppress facts on issues from the deficit to global warming, Clinton told a crowd of more than 900 people at a “New York Women for Hillary” fund-raiser.

“There has never been an administration, I don’t think in our history, more intent on consolidating and abusing power to further their own agenda,” said Clinton.

The New York event was the first high-profile fund-raiser of her re-election bid and has served as an occasion for a new round of speculation over her presidential prospects.

The former first lady is favored to win a second Senate term next year, but Republicans are expected to run a tough campaign against her as a prelude to any possible bid by Clinton for the White House in 2008.

“The Republicans will spend a lot of money against her next year,” said Ann Lewis, communications director for Clinton’s campaign. “They’ve been very open about their intention to do as much damage to her as they can.”

Among potential Republican challengers for her Senate seat are Edward Cox, son-in-law of the late President Richard Nixon; Westchester County., N.Y., District Attorney Jeanine Pirro and former Yonkers, N.Y., Mayor John Spencer, who announced plans last week to seek his party’s nomination.

It was critical for Democrats to capture Congress in 2006 and the White House in 2008, Clinton said, but she did not discuss her own potential presidential run.

Analysts say Clinton would be a strong candidate for her party’s presidential nomination, but she could be hampered in a general-election race by her status as a lightning rod for conservative criticism ever since the administration of her husband, former President Bill Clinton.

The chairman of the Republican National Committee, Ken Mehlman, said on Sunday that Clinton would be a formidable candidate, but called her one of the most liberal members of Congress who has opposed tax cuts and an anti-abortion agenda.

“Sen. Clinton is smart, she’s effective and she certainly … has a massive fund-raising network,” Mehlman said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” However, he said, “What I think people are going to look for is what she in her record has done.”

“I stay awake at night thinking about all the mistakes and the wrong direction and all the bad decisions being made in Washington,” Clinton said at the fund-raiser. “It’s very hard to stop people who have no shame about what they’re doing. It’s very hard to stop people who have never been acquainted with the truth.

“We cannot give them (Republicans) another two years of majority. We cannot give them another four years after that,” she said.

She characterized the Bush administration’s financial priorities as tax cuts for the wealthy and funding the war in Iraq, rather than the needs of Americans who lack health insurance, affordable housing and good schools.

“We can’t ever, ever give in to the Republican agenda,” she said. “It is not good for New York, and it is not good for America.

The next nomination of a U.S. Supreme Court justice, as early as this summer, will be “excruciating,” she noted.

“He (Bush) wants to nominate someone, I believe, who will be a confrontational nominee so he can provide support to his far-right extremist base,” she said.

The event raised $250,000, organizers said. Supporters took home “Give ’em Hill” bumper stickers.

The Clintons are among the Democrats’ biggest fund-raisers. Her campaign raised almost $4 million in the first three months of 2005 and had $8.7 million on hand at the end of the first quarter.

She spent about $30 million in her 2000 Senate campaign, her first attempt at political office.