For Hillary Clinton a possible fourth act - the presidency

Only a brave person would bet against the popular and respected Clinton lining up for the presidency in 2016 after a welcome break

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 04 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 04 November, 2012, 2:16pm

The saying that there are "no second acts in American lives" doesn't stand up to the great renaissance of Hillary Clinton.

Eight years in the White House as first lady to husband Bill ended in the pain of the Monica Lewinsky affair. Then, after election as a senator representing New York, came the bitterness of her failed bid to beat Barack Obama to the Democratic nomination for president back in 2008.

Where once she was handicapped by her polarising views, now she has emerged, after four years as Obama's secretary of state, as one of the most popular and respected politicians on the American stage. Her popularity is in fact only just topped by that of first lady Michelle Obama.

Now comes the potential fourth act. Will she run for president in 2016?

It is one of the hottest questions in Washington. Clinton has repeatedly signalled her intention to stand down no matter who wins Tuesday's election.

Diplomats and State Department aides say she often talks about how tired she is and how she is looking forward to a good break and evaluating her options.

"She's loved the work, she enjoys her stature but she's exhausted," one aide said. "She's travelled more than any other US secretary of state in history and she's feeling it. After eight years in the White House - plus the Senate - and then all of this, she feels entitled to a break."

One East Asian diplomat in Washington noted that his peers were now all on their best behaviour as Clinton entered the twilight of her term. "We're all sure we'll be seeing her again… this isn't the last of Mrs Hillary Clinton," he said.

Those travels have continued in recent weeks.

As part of a swing through Europe and the Middle East last week she told the Albanian parliament it was a shared "love of our country" that had enabled her and Obama to work together so well after he beat her. "Believe me," she said, "I did everything I could to beat him."

She said nothing, however, about her longer-term plans.

While Clinton has been conspicuous by her absence in the closing days of Obama's bruising campaign for a second term, her husband has not. His forceful appearances on the hustings are driving speculation about Hillary's eventual intentions. Bill has never been particularly close to Obama - they clashed during his wife's primary run - so his campaigning in recent days may have several motivations.

While he appears to revel in the adoration he still receives, he is also building up capital - and favours - should his wife run.

There is no clear Democratic Party front runner for 2016 - certainly no contender on the horizon with the star power of Clinton. The role of secretary of state has also kept her above the vexing economic and domestic issues of recent years.

She's just turned 65, which means she would be 69 by the time the next election rolls around - still younger than Ronald Reagan when he took office.

The other part of the speculation, of course, is who will replace her. Republican contender Mitt Romney's foreign policy views remain a work in progress, and his advisers offer a mixed bag of options. The moderate former World Bank president Robert Zoellick is emerging a front runner in diplomatic circles.

On the Democratic side, veteran Senator John Kerry is known to be keen - and he has been helping Obama with his bid for re-election. A long-term member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Kerry is well known in the region as a verbose but pro-engagement figure with a detailed grasp of the issues.

In terms of stature and name recognition, Clinton leaves big shoes to fill.