By Dick Morris - 06/22/05 12:00 AM EDT
The most recent Fox News poll shows Hillary Clinton has reached an all-time height in popularity with a favorable-unfavorable rating of 52-39.
This is the first time she has been above 47 percent favorable since she left the White House. She has gained five points in favorability in the past seven weeks.
And her growth in popularity has been stimulated and animated by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.), Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.) and the other Republican stalwarts who have fallen all over themselves to appear in public with Sen. Clinton (D-N.Y.), hyping and ratifying her positions on terrorism, national defense, sex on television and medical-record privacy.
Her popularity is also getting a boost from the arranged marriage between former Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton — a nuptial orchestrated by current President George W. Bush so he could use Clinton’s visibility to improve the public impression of his response to the tsunami disaster.
All those card-carrying Republicans are using Bill or Hillary to help their own careers by moving their images to the center, in the case of Newt, or to center stage, in the case of Santorum and Frist. But, in doing so, they are slitting their own throats.
The closer Clinton draws to the White House, the more the GOP should stay away from her. Rather than lend her credibility by seeming to bolster her, Republicans should do all they can to ghettoize her on the left. America needs to understand that Clinton is no centrist, and Republicans should not allow themselves to be used to make her appear so.
But not all Republicans are helping Hillary. In New York state, Westchester County District Attorney Jeanine Pirro seems to be getting closer to running against her in the 2006 race for the Senate. Pirro has to be Hillary’s worst nightmare. She is a pro-choice woman who even backs Medicaid funding for abortion and a supporter of gun control, affirmative action and gay civil unions.
But Pirro is no Democrat. She strongly supports the Patriot Act, making the Bush tax cuts permanent and the diversion of Social Security tax revenues into private investment accounts. She has a tough-on-crime image from her constant appearances on New York City television, with a particular focus on family-values issues such as pedophilia and Internet pornography.
Hillary has always thrived off right-wing challengers who flunk the litmus tests imposed by New York’s liberal electorate. But, in Pirro, she has met someone whom she can’t browbeat over abortion or the usual Democratic issues.
Clinton is especially vulnerable to Pirro because Hillary can’t pledge to serve out her term if she is reelected. Polls show that her refusal to do so strikes New Yorkers very badly. Having extended the welcome mat to this carpetbagger and taken her at her word that she wanted to be part of the Big Apple, they feel they are being treated like doormats in reelecting someone who will obviously begin to miss votes and focus all her energy on running for president as soon as she is reelected.
If Pirro attracts the massive national funding she is likely to get, she can wage a very strong race against Hillary. My bet is that Clinton thinks the better of it and drops out of the race if Pirro comes on strong. Why should she risk the presidency — and have to spend $20 million — just to get reelected to her old job?
And … if Hillary drops out after Pirro has built up a head of steam, it could give the GOP a Senate seat in the most unlikely of places — Clinton’s back yard.
Morris is the author of Rewriting History, a rebuttal of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s (D-N.Y.) memoir, Living History.