Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is at center stage
again -- as networks plan programs focusing on her life and Republicans rage
about the possibility that she will run for president in 2016.
But when she takes the podium Monday at San Francisco's Moscone Center to receive the American Bar Association's highest honor -- the ABA Medal, which recognizes her legal career and her work to help female lawyers advance -- Clinton may be pondering something else: how big the lovefest will be.
"If there's a city in America that is in love with Hillary Clinton, it's San Francisco," said Michael Yaki, a former San Francisco supervisor who served as the 2008 national platform director for the Obama for America campaign.
"She has a combination of guts, intelligence, poise and policy," added Yaki, who served for seven years as a senior adviser to Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco. "She has withstood so many trials by fire -- there is just special admiration in this town for her."
If Clinton runs for president, Democrats in one of the nation's most reliable political ATMs "will be emptying the spare change in their pockets to donate to her campaign," Yaki said. "She will have no trouble raising money here."
San Francisco entrepreneur Susie Tompkins Buell, a longtime Clinton friend, said she is hearing from Democrats who considered Clinton to be an inspiring secretary of state and who believe that "we need her now, more than ever" as a future White House candidate.
That's one reason Buell is finance chairwoman for ReadyforHillary.com, a super PAC helping lay the groundwork for Clinton.
It's "a smart, caring bunch of young and very purposeful people," Buell said.
The red carpet being laid out for Clinton in San Francisco comes as the former first lady -- a graduate of Yale Law School who worked as counsel on the House Judiciary Committee during the Watergate investigation -- has been dominating speculation over who will run for president in three years.
CNN and NBC recently announced plans for Hillary-themed programming -- a documentary on her life and a miniseries starring actress Diane Lane -- prompting Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus to demand that the networks pull back.
The focus will give Clinton an unfair political advantage, said Priebus, who has threatened to pull GOP presidential debates, saying the networks don't have the interests of Republican candidates in mind.
Last week, a GOP super PAC called the Hillary Project was met with howls of protests from women's groups when it pushed a "Slap Hillary" game online.
Some Republicans acknowledged that Clinton's position among other likely candidates in the 2016 election already looks daunting -- but they also say party insiders should tone down what could look like shrill or inappropriate attacks.
"There's no doubt she is seen as the front-runner for 2016, so she naturally takes on the role of being the big target," said GOP consultant Jennifer Kerns.
Kerns, the former spokeswoman for the state GOP, calls the Hillary game "distasteful and unacceptable," but she adds that "before there was a "Slap Hillary" game, there was a game -- "Slap Palin" -- that poked the former Alaska governor.
"The best way to beat Hillary Clinton is on her record," Kerns said. "She presided over Benghazi and the death of four Americans."
"Why do we have to stoop so low?" Kerns added.
Buell, a philanthropist, green activist and one of the Democratic Party's most generous donors, said ReadyforHillary.com is preparing for such attacks by building a team that will help Clinton if she decides to enter the 2016 White House fray.
"The PAC is organizing a lot of people and groundwork so that things can be done before she declares -- and if she does, it's ready," said Buell, who plans to meet briefly with Clinton, a longtime and close friend, during her short stop in San Francisco.
Buell said no one, including her close friends, knows which way Clinton is leaning. But she said Clinton plans to return to San Francisco in November with her daughter, Chelsea, for an event keyed to the under-35 millennials.
Author Morley Winograd, who co-wrote "The Millennial Makeover: How a New Generation Is Remaking America" with Michael D. Hais, said such an event recognizes that the youth vote would be critical to Clinton's 2016 success -- just as it was to President Obama's campaigns in 2008 and 2012.
Clinton, Winograd said, has "terrific credentials and a dedication to public service ... but the question is, can she connect with a new generation of voters? The jury is still out on that."
Buell's PAC is one of several independent efforts around the country trying to bolster Clinton's 2016 chances among different voter groups.
Emily's List, the huge lobby supporting pro-choice Democratic women, sponsored a "Madam President" event last week in Iowa, where preparations for the 2016 Iowa caucuses are under way.
The American Bridge PAC has also established its interest in her candidacy, and House Minority Leader Pelosi has repeatedly expressed her support for a Clinton candidacy in 2016, even though she could be challenged by Vice President Joe Biden and Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, who are dropping hints about running.
Yaki said that if Clinton decides to run, it will be very difficult to beat the Iron Lady of American politics.
"She's been through every fire you can think of, private and public," Yaki said, "and there's still this wellspring of good feeling and goodwill from the Clinton era. She's demonstrated that she fought a tough race, she lost -- and she put it aside to serve our country. Nothing they throw against her is going to stick."
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