THE metamorphosis of Hillary Rodham Clinton has been nothing short of spectacular as political makeovers go. During President Bill Clinton's first term, the First Lady was so unpopular - and seen as such a liability to the administration - that she was relegated by her husband to a traditional background role. Her association with the Whitewater scandal, her involvement in the botched health-care reform initiative and a public perception that she was the real power in the White House were factors conspiring to tarnish Mrs Clinton's image. But her transformation during the past 18 months has been so successful that the prospect that she might run for the Senate next year has been about the only subject of discussion across America in the past week. Fascination with a possible race between New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Mrs Clinton has stolen the spotlight from candidates vying for their parties' presidential nominations. Nobody has had a bad word to say about the woman who has suddenly become the brightest star on the Democrats' horizon. Praise has even come from Republican quarters, with Mr Giuliani talking of his 'deep respect' for Mrs Clinton and Al D'Amato - the former senator who launched a Senate probe into the Whitewater affair - predicting that she would be a formidable candidate. But how has the First Lady risen from political leper to the people's saviour? If one word could encapsulate the turnaround, it would be: Monica. The outpouring of public sympathy for a wife humiliated by an unfaithful husband has managed to rebuild Mrs Clinton's image. This and the fact that she seems to embody all the character that her husband clearly lacks. By keeping her composure during the past year's crisis, while managing to appear aloof from the moral cesspit the public had associated with Washington, Mrs Clinton has become the one person in the White House Americans can trust. The President's revelation in August that he also lied to his wife about his affair with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky only served to boost Mrs Clinton's approval ratings. Even before the scandal broke, the First Lady had been gradually rebuilding her image by travelling the world focusing on women's and children's issues. She also wrote a popular book, It Takes a Village, about child-rearing and education. She stayed focused on that role last year, while giving occasional interviews and posing for the cover of Vogue in regal dress. Even criticism from the feminist community, that she has so loyally stood by her unfaithful husband, has been muted. Mr Clinton's eager endorsement of a possible Senate run by his wife has been seen as a thank-you for her silence and loyalty during the past year. On Friday he said he would 'be strongly supportive of whatever decision she makes' but that he was encouraging her to 'take some time, get some rest, listen to people on both sides of the argument'.