2nd Wave of Former Clinton Aides Goes for Election Gold

They were young and eager in the 1990s, these midlevel functionaries, hotshot lawyers and one Cabinet secretary in his father's shadow, all inspired by the same boss: President Clinton.

Today, Clinton administration alumni are taking their turn in the political spotlight while their former leader cheers from the sidelines.

"I am pleased and proud that so many of them have run or are running for office," the former president said in an e-mail to The Associated Press. "Their dedication and enthusiasm are part of the reason why we were able to accomplish as much good as we did, and I believe those who win will continue to serve well."

Nowhere is the Clinton class more evident than in New York, where the ex-president and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton now live. Four of five Democrats hoping to succeed Eliot Spitzer as New York's attorney general served in the Clinton administration.

"What you're seeing is, politicized Democrats tend to be younger than average at this level and still have a lot of politics left in them," said Stephen Hess, a professor at George Washington University.

One Clinton alumnus is Charlie King, a candidate for state attorney general. "Bill Clinton represented the same sort of catalyst to my generation that JFK had to the generation before Clinton," King said.

"He reminded all of us that you can do great things through public service and do great things for the lives of others," King said.

In 2002, King was the Liberal Party's nominee for lieutenant governor. The ticket was headed by Andrew Cuomo, a housing secretary in the Clinton administration whose father, Mario, was governor of New York for 12 years. King was Andrew Cuomo's regional director in New York for the Housing and Urban Development Department.

The Clinton class also includes:

— Kirsten Gillibrand, a former HUD lawyer under Andrew Cuomo. She is running for Congress in the New York's 20th District, which stretches north from Albany's suburbs.

— Sheldon Whitehouse, a former U.S. attorney. He is running for the U.S. Senate in Rhode Island.

— Tom Perez, a former deputy U.S. attorney. He is running for attorney general in Maryland.

— Bill Halter, Clinton's deputy Social Security commissioner. He advanced last month to Tuesday's Democratic runoff for the nomination for lieutenant governor in Arkansas.

The crowded field for New York attorney general also features Sean Patrick Maloney, an aide in the Clinton White House aide. In addition, Denise O'Donnell, the former U.S. attorney in Buffalo, dropped out of the race on June 3.

Clinton says his proteges are embarking on an honorable cause.

"It's important for young people to believe that public service, for all its trials, is a noble endeavor and a worthy way to spend a life."

On Cuomo's campaign Web site, the first image visitors see is the candidate with Clinton and Vice President Al Gore. Maloney's Web site features photos of his years in and out of the Oval Office, with the president and first lady, attending state dinners and meeting world leaders.

"This is reflected glory," said Lee Miringoff, head of Marist College's Institute of Public Opinion. "With New York Democrats, the Clinton name is the gold standard and these candidates are more than eager to be identified as being around the Clinton White House. This is made for New York."

Democrats hold a 5-to-3 edge in party registration in New York and Sen. Clinton enjoys high approval ratings in the polls. Bill Clinton's favorable ratings remain high, 60 percent according to a CNN/USA Today/Gallup nationwide poll taken last October.

Dick Morris, the former presidential adviser turned Clinton critic, sees the candidates as part of a second wave of ex-Clinton aides striking out on their own.

Before them came:

— Erskine Bowles, Clinton's White House chief of staff. Bowles was a two-time losing U.S. Senate candidate in North Carolina.

— former Labor Secretary Robert Reich. He ran unsuccessfully for Massachusetts governor in 2002.

— former U.N. Ambassador Bill Richardson. He was elected New Mexico's governor in 2002.

— Rahm Emanuel, a former White House adviser. He was elected as an Illinois congressman in 2002 and now heads the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

One Clinton alumnus aimed significantly higher: Gore lost the presidential race to George W. Bush in 2000.

Some Democrats want him to try again in 2008.

That could pose a problem for another powerful veteran of the Clinton White House. Hillary Clinton is thinking about a presidential race of her own.