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Which Clinton is really running here?

November 13, 2007 |  6:28 am

It's getting hard these days to keep track of which Clinton is running for president. They both seem to be popping up everywhere.

Whatever happened to the early Hillary Clinton campaign decision to use her husband sparingly lest the natural campaigner overshadow the hardworking one in the forced smile and pantsuit? Have they made a calculated in-house decision that the narrowing Democratic polls mean she isn't the inevitable winner after all? And she needs to call up the big gun already?

Barack Obama's campaign sent out an e-mail to supporters yesterday seeking, of course, more money. But this time it was a very specific $850,000 online this week, which the missive said would allow Obama to cancel a planned future week of national fundraising and invest it instead in Iowa, where he is also hiring more staff and the race is tight. What would an Obama victory or close second do to Clinton's handmade invulnerability image?

Clearly, Bill Clinton loves the campaigning, the speaking and the crowds' adulation. There have been a few reported times recently where he maybe goes a little long into his remarks before bringing up the alleged reason for his presence, to press the candidacy of his Mrs.

Many still adore him. They're likely Hillary fans anyway. This high-profile for Bill carries some real risks too. First of all, his presence may cause many to remember the numerous scandals and soap operas, the Monica Lewinsky and Gennifer Flowers businesses, Travelgate, Whitewater, the last-minute pardons, which Hillary alone might not engender, at least not so intensely.

Also, he's something of a loose cannon. Twice, in recent weeks he has totally detracted from Hillary's campaign messages by making distracting news himself on what constitutes torture and the over-the-top suggestion in Iowa that her opponents' criticisms were like the Swift Boat smearings of 2004.

In both cases, Bill had to back off the next day and agree with his wife's differing stand on torture and her revised statements that the criticisms were not "piling on" but because she was indeed the front-runner. Yet more days lost in the news cycle, not to mention her own recent debate stumbles over drivers licenses for illegal immigrants, releasing her first lady papers and, last weekend, planting questions at her public forums.

Yesterday in South Carolina he told a Charleston audience "these boys have been getting tough on her." Or maybe she's bringing it on herself. (UPDATE: Today, Clinton staffers rushed to explain that Clinton's use of "boys," which his wife's campaign manager used last week as in "the boys" are "piling on," was not intended to re-play the gender card but was simply good old boy Arkansas vernacular.)

Perhaps more importantly, a ubiquitous Bill Clinton on the campaign trail raises the whole dynasty specter and the issue of just what the precise role would be for B. Clinton in an H. Clinton administration with the first-ever ex-president hanging around the White House Oval Office full time. She has said she would send him on global missions to improve America's image. Fine.

Can anyone imagine a well-behaved Bill Clinton fully satisfied with trooping off to Kenya to ride an elephant and visit hospitals for the cameras full time? Since the Clintons refuse to release the White House papers from his two terms until after the 2008 election, we have no way of knowing exactly what role Hillary played in advising and influencing her husband's policymaking. So we can't guess about vice-versa. Anecdotes in recent books suggest the couple was often not on the same page.

Beyond that, who in their right mind of any substance would agree to be Hillary Clinton's vice presidential partner when she's married to an assistant president already?

--Andrew Malcolm