GOP Strategists Worry About Clinton Strength

Carefully keeping track of Hillary Clinton's campaign from day to day, senior Republican strategists and White House officials are increasingly concerned that she will be a very formidable candidate in next year's presidential election.

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Carefully keeping track of Hillary Clinton's campaign from day to day, senior Republican strategists and White House officials are increasingly concerned that she will be a very formidable candidate in next year's presidential election.

Not only do President Bush and his top aides believe that Clinton will be the Democratic nominee; they express grudging admiration for her ability to rebound from setbacks and parry her opponents' attacks. The latest examples, in the GOP officials' view, came in last week's Democratic debate in Las Vegas, when Clinton got the better of Barack Obama and John Edwards and showed her resilience. This came after Clinton seemed off-balance amid criticism of her dissembling over a proposal to issue driver's licenses to illegal workers in New York—which the governor has now withdrawn and which Clinton now says she opposes.

All in all, the battle for the Democratic nomination is toughening up the Clinton campaign, improving its rapid-response operation, and making clear that it can take nothing for granted—all valuable lessons, GOP advisers tell U.S. News. As for Bush, he remarks to friends that he sees strategic parallels between his 2000 race and Clinton's today. Notably, Bush says the 2000 primary process helped strengthen his campaign and ready him for the general election, especially after he lost the New Hampshire primary to John McCain and was forced to make a comeback.

"The primary process helps Senator Clinton right now," says a senior GOP strategist. "She's got to show she can take a punch"—and so far, that's what she's doing.

—Kenneth T. Walsh