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Opinion

February 15, 2014

Shribman: The Clinton candidacy; will it be like Van Buren or Muskie?

PORTSMOUTH, N.H. — There she is on the cover of Time magazine. And look, on that bizarre cover of The New York Times Magazine, there she is again. She’s everywhere, and the story line is pretty much the same: Hillary Clinton is a pretty good bet to be the Democratic presidential nominee. If she runs.

That’s a big “if,” but it’s hard to imagine that a woman who has been one of the most prominent members of her generation since her fabled college commencement address — a woman who has been secretary of state, senator from an important political state and first lady — will decline a presidential campaign and a chance to grab the brass ring of history merely because she’s weary of travel, or that she will decline a chance to preside over the Rose Garden because she wants to cultivate her own garden in Chappaqua.

A campaign almost certainly will be even more irresistible to her because women still haven’t won their share of power in American politics. It is not only that the country never has elected a female president; it’s also that even today only a fifth of the Senate is female, and that only 30 women in history have entered the chamber through election.

But in the end — indeed, in the beginning — Clinton’s gender is very likely not going to be a principal, or even an incidental, factor in the 2016 presidential race, and not just because Golda Meir, Indira Gandhi, Margaret Thatcher and Angela Merkel have preceded her with strong performances as national leaders.

The real reason has two parts and has nothing to do with Clinton’s being a woman and everything to do with her credentials and background.

First, political figures from New York such as Martin Van Buren, Millard Fillmore, Grover Cleveland and Franklin Delano Roosevelt almost always are natural candidates for president, even if, like Thomas E. Dewey and Nelson Rockefeller, they do not prevail or, like Mario Cuomo, they decline to run.

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