Clinton enjoys unofficial campaign

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Sometimes Hillary Clinton is happy to embrace President Obama’s positions.

Sometimes Clinton is happy to distance herself from Obama.

{mosads}And sometimes she just wants to stay out of it, such as with the battle over approving the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

Clinton, who is weighing whether to make a second White House bid, hasn’t taken sides over the pipeline since the midterm elections spelled disaster for Democrats, nor did she weigh in in her memoir or during her book tour this summer. 

A Clinton spokesman didn’t respond to an email asking about the former secretary of State’s position, and more than 10 Clinton allies declined to comment, underscoring the precarious politics involved with a project that is vehemently opposed by green groups crucial in a Democratic presidential primary, but that is supported by many white working-class voters important in a general election.

The Keystone caution differs from Clinton’s moves to distance herself from Obama’s handling of Syria and her willingness to tie herself to Obama on other issues, such as immigration.

It shows a willingness by the front-runner for the Democratic nomination to handle the issues of Obama’s presidency on a case-by-case basis, in whatever way is most convenient for her own political future.

“This is why it’s convenient not to be an official candidate,” said Julian Zelizer, a professor of public affairs and history at Princeton University. “It’s easier to pick and choose what to speak about, while letting the president handle his own controversial issues.”

On immigration, another high-profile issue confronting the White House, allies say Clinton will tie herself to Obama’s executive actions. They mostly see the expected immigration executive action as a win-win for Clinton, because Obama moving to give legal status to millions of immigrants could excite Hispanic and Asian-American voters who have become crucial parts of Democratic presidential coalitions.

“It’s an early win for her,” said one former Clinton aide who worked on her 2008 presidential campaign. “The Republicans are still trying to figure out their position on this, and this helps her secure a huge bloc of voters. It’s probably the best thing Obama could have done for her.”

Clinton knows that, if she runs for the White House, she’ll be asked about every move the president makes. She and her team will have to be ready to embrace Obama where it suits them, and to cast him aside when that would better serve her candidacy.

And there will be some issues where it’s best to stay quiet — especially now, during an “interim period,” as one ally put it, when she’s not a candidate for the White House.

They say that, for now, it makes the most sense to speak broadly about the challenges the country faces and not get weighed down by the trench warfare of day-to-day tactical battles.

One of the only Clintonites willing to talk about Keystone said it’s a no-brainer for her to dodge the issue.

“There are a million reasons for why she wouldn’t want to weigh in, but I can’t think of one good reason for her to speak her mind on the issue, at least right now,” the source said, adding that Clinton is “not at the State Department anymore, is not in elected office and is not a candidate.”

Zelizer said Clinton likely hopes the issue will move on before she has to make a public comment about it.

“If she has the option of keeping quiet, which as a not-yet candidate she does, this is a smart move,” he said. “She is hoping that the president can resolve this, or the issue fades before she needs to deal with it.”

But it will be increasingly difficult to dodge these questions if her White House bid becomes official. And make no mistakes about it, Democratic rivals and Republicans alike will press her on the issue.

“What is Secretary Clinton afraid of when it comes to Keystone?” said Tim Miller, the executive director of the super-PAC America Rising, which has been targeting Clinton. “Environmentalist mega-donors who did nothing to stop the Democrats’ widespread election losses?

“It’s this type of overtly political posturing that turned voters off to her in 2008 and will cost her again next year,” Miller added. “Voters want to know where you stand.” But those in Hillaryland say she has lots of time to make her positions known.

“This is her time to kick back, make a decision and not worry about the nitty-gritty,” said one former aide who worked on her 2008 campaign. “She can stay above the fray.”

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