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Hillary Clinton makes her return to Capitol Hill

June 24, 2008 |  1:08 pm

Hillary Clinton refocused on her day job today, after lying low for more than two weeks since her widely acclaimed speech ceding the Democratic presidential nomination to Barack Obama and, more to the point, after almost 18 months of being preoccupied with her White House quest.

Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York greets wellwishers as she returns to the Senate now that her run for the Democratic presidential nomination has ended The senator from New York arrived at the Capitol via an SUV shortly after 1 p.m. EDT and, perhaps to help her adjust to the culture shock on having left the campaign trail, a crowd was on hand for the occasion. See video below.

It wasn't a large one -- perhaps 100 or so, according to The Times' Noam Levey, who was on the scene. And although some were supporters, a few were interns who had been told by supervisors to line the Capitol's steps to greet her. And others were simply a clutch of Washington's ubiquitous tourists.

They combined to give the defeated candidate a warm welcome, cheering and waving as she made her way into her workplace. "We missed you," shouted one woman.

And Clinton -- dressed in a bright turquoise suit much like the one she wore on the last day of the primary season on June 3 -- looked upbeat as she paused to shake hands. She made a point of asking some of the younger onlookers where they were from and thanking them for coming out to see her. She then disappeared inside the edifice, where she joined her Democratic colleagues for their weekly policy lunch in the Lyndon Baines Johnson room outside the Senate chamber.

Standing at the edge of the crowd before Clinton arrived, Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana --an early and staunch backer of Clinton's presidential bid -- said he expected she now would move toward a leadership role in the Senate.

"I don't think she'll enter the witness protection program. ... She's not going to be an anonymous figure," Bayh said. "She has so much to contribute. ... I hope she'll embrace this opportunity, and I think she will. ... You can make a heck of a difference in the United States Senate."

Clinton probably can count on an extra dose of empathy from Bayh -- he briefly stuck his toe in the 2008 presidential waters before quickly withdrawing and casting his lot with her.

Indeed, the chamber is full of lawmakers with whom she can commiserate. Among the 99 other senators, 15 have run for president, to greater or lesser extents. **

That includes the two who are still at it, Obama and John McCain (one of whom, barring an unforeseen circumstance, will become the first sitting senator since John Kennedy in 1960 to win the office).

-- Don Frederick

Photo: Associated Press

** For true political junkies, the current senators -- aside from Clinton, Obama, McCain and Bayh -- who have sought the presidency are Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Joe Biden of Delaware, Sam Brownback of Kansas, Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina, Chris Dodd of Connecticut, Tom Harkin of Iowa, Orrin Hatch of Utah, John Kerry and Ted Kennedy, both of Massachusetts, Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, Richard Lugar of Indiana and Arlen Spector of Pennsylvania.