WASHINGTON – A small band of wishful thinkers is hoping the junior senator from New York and former first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton (search) will not wait until 2008 to run for president, as many of her supporters have hinted, but will make a run in 2004.
But during a rally in Washington Tuesday urging Clinton to run for president next year, only six people came, half the number of reporters.
The leader of the movement, Florida gay rights activist Bob Kunst (search), said recent polls showing Clinton running ahead of the Democratic field and President Bush prove she is viable this election season.
"This is critical because this is even without her making any kind of declaration except to deny that she is going to be doing this," Kunst of the poll numbers. "That tells you something about Bush's vulnerability. It tells you that her power is the strongest within the Democratic Party. So the question is where is the Democratic Party?"
Kunst is one of four "Draft Hillary" afficionados. Most of their work is done on the Internet where they discuss write-in candidacies and how to build an issue platform.
"We're creating the issues with the right candidate. This is not top down, it's bottom up and we're letting Hillary know it's alright to take a stand," he said.
But unlike the online effort that spawned the candidacy of retired Gen. Wesley Clark (search), one major problem is marring Kunst's grand plan: Clinton has said explicitly that she does not want to be drafted.
"I am focused on doing the job I have to do in the Senate and trying to help elect a Democrat, because I think four more years of this administration would be just unbelievably bad for New York and America," she said.
Without a doubt, Clinton could be a force in 2004. Recent polls show her with large leads over Democrats who've been campaigning for nearly a year. One poll also showed Clinton beating former Vice President and 2000 candidate Al Gore, another non-candidate who runs ahead of the declared Democratic candidates.
"People talk regarding Hillary because it's an interesting story, but it's just a story. She's been asked, she's answered she's not going to run. If she were going to run, we would know it," said Democratic pollster Doug Usher.
Clinton's appearance this weekend as mistress of ceremonies during the Iowa Democratic Party's Jefferson-Jackson dinner (search) could prove a sad day for voters as the entire presidential field will stand next to Clinton, giving them a chance to comparison shop and daydream about a last-minute savior for the party.
Kunst said the comparison shopping makes the choice obvious.
"There's so many places to hit George Bush. I mean, all [the candidates] are discussing is who was against the war first and who is Mr. Democrat. Who cares? That's not going to save this country or the planet," he said.
Kunst said if all else fails, he may try to launch a write-in campaign for Clinton, an effort that has rarely, if ever, proven successful. Clinton's real power next year may not lie in a candidacy, but in an endorsement — something every campaign now covets with an ardor not seen since the days of big party bosses.