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   [Hillary] Clinton's ascent impresses strategists in both parties

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1/3/2006 5:00 pm

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Entered 1/11/2006, Updated 1/11/2006

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At the start of 2000, then-first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton was an untested political candidate seeking to win election in a state where she and her husband had only just recently purchased a home. Six years later, Clinton is a U.S. senator who is not only considered an almost lock to win re-election, but is viewed as a political force in New York and an early favorite for the Democratic Party's 2008 presidential nomination. It's been quite a ride. "What's happened here is that she has consistently defied expectations," said Democratic strategist Hank Sheinkopf. "It's a tribute to her. ... What she has run is a picture-perfect operation that has positioned her so well that even the normal killers of Democrats, white Catholic men, now like her. That's how far she has come. That's pretty extraordinary." While Clinton remains one of the nation's most polarizing political figures, she has consistently staked out centrist positions, especially on defense and national security issues, that have allowed her to expand her base of support and appeal to moderate voters, Sheinkopf and other pundits said. At the same time, she has built upon her celebrity status to become one of the party's most prolific fundraisers, increasing her power within the Democratic Party and leaving even some Republicans impressed. Clinton's most recent financial statement, made public in October, showed she had raised more than $14 million. And she stepped up her fundraising in recent weeks, touring several states and holding some high-profile events with her husband, former President Clinton. "She is a very bright woman who knows public policy backwards and forwards and who has reached out to a diverse constituency, especially upstate," said GOP strategist Mike Edelman. "I'm very impressed." The praise, especially from Republicans, marks a drastic turnaround from the earliest days of her campaign, which opened in 1999 with a much-publicized "listening tour" across the state


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