COLUMBUS, Ohio—Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton courted a moderate image on Monday, urging a truce between the liberal and centrist wings of her Democratic Party and a platform that bridges differences as she positions herself for a possible bid for the presidency.
Delivering a broad overview of public affairs that illustrated how she would lead the party, Clinton blended the rhetoric of President Bush in stressing an aggressive war on terrorism with the kind of talk her husband used in forging middle-ground consensus on divisive issues such as abortion and the role of faith in public life.
Clinton's venue was the annual conference of the Democratic Leadership Council, the same centrist group of Democratic Party leaders and activists that helped launch her husband's 1992 presidential campaign and where she accepted the chairmanship of a yearlong effort to write a new party agenda.
She didn't mention ambitions beyond her 2006 re-election as New York's junior senator.
But to the audience of rank-and-file Democrats, there was no doubt that she's the biggest star in the party and the likely front-runner for its 2008 nomination should she seek it.
"I'd love for her to be president," said Elizabeth Kennedy Lawlor, a Democrat from Alabama who waited eagerly after the speech for Clinton to autograph her latest book, "Living History." "She's a fighter. She's a survivor."
Ever since she won election to the Senate in 2000, Clinton has been striving to establish her moderate or centrist credentials. It's an apparent effort to overcome her reputation as an orthodox liberal. Like everyone else at the meeting of party centrists, Clinton is keenly aware that the only two Democrats to win the presidency in the last 35 years have been moderate Southerners—one of them her husband, Bill Clinton, and the other a former governor of Georgia, Jimmy Carter.
In her speech, Clinton sought to place herself astride the divisions in her party and the country.
"All too often we have allowed ourselves to be split between left, right and center," she said of Democrats. "It's high time for a cease-fire." Echoing one of her husband's favorite lines, she said Democrats should stop "accepting the false logic of false choices that keep our party and our country divided."
Instead, she said, Democrats need to convince the country that Americans can expand health care while being fiscally responsible, fight terrorism while strengthening international alliances and support free trade while protecting American workers.
Taking on one of the most emotional schisms, she said Democrats need to support abortion rights while also using such tools as family planning and eased adoptions to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies and abortions. She has called for "common ground" on abortion, though she hasn't wavered in her support of universal abortion rights.
She referred to faith in God, shared values and a desire to "protect our children from the excesses of the popular culture."
Such emphasis on values more often associated with political conservatives than liberals isn't new for Clinton. She's been a consistent supporter of the military, particularly since the 2001 terrorist attacks. A member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, she backed the war in Iraq and has refused to push for early withdrawal. A potential rival, Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana, joked Monday that he's seen her reading Soldier of Fortune magazine.
Her efforts to find middle ground have accelerated since liberal Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts was defeated in last year's presidential election.
Most notably, she's working to overcome broad criticism of her failure when she led the Clinton White House's 1993-94 effort to expand health care. Recently she even has been partnering with former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich—who fought her husband on virtually everything—on proposals to use technology to save money in health care.
Several potential rivals for the 2008 presidential nomination also courted party moderates at the session, including Bayh and Govs. Tom Vilsack of Iowa and Mark Warner of Virginia. All were well received.
But it was Clinton who drew the most interest and the most emotional responses.
"Hillary Clinton would be an extraordinary president," said Sandra Frankel, a town supervisor in Brighton, N.Y. "I think she'll win."
Frankel said Clinton has the "toughness" necessary to run and govern in a post-Sept. 11, 2001, world, likening her to such other strong leaders as Margaret Thatcher of Great Britain, Indira Gandhi of India and Golda Meir of Israel.
Not everyone present was so enthusiastic.
"She's certainly the big dog in the field, but I don't want her to run in ང," said Pat Vance, an alderman from Waterbury, Conn. "She's too divisive." He said he wants the party to go with a centrist such as Warner, a pro-business Democrat who successfully wooed rural voters.
Ann Mah, a state representative from Kansas, said Clinton could make inroads into Republican "red" states such as Missouri and Ohio if she stresses national security and reframes the debate on such divisive issues as abortion.
"If she takes a moderate path, she could do well," Mah said.
How about in her home state of Kansas?
"Oh no. We're pretty red out there."
For more information, go to www.dlc.org.
(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
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