CONCORD, N.H. – Sen. Hillary Clinton (search) isn't running for president, but her campaign already has started in New Hampshire.
A group, Hillary Now!, this week will run TV ads in Manchester, Concord, Portsmouth, Salem and Nashua, pushing the New York senator for president in 2008. The group has no official ties to Clinton's office, but its president, Bob Kunst, of Miami Beach, Fla., said he is laying the foundation for her possible bid for the presidency.
"Hillary is the strongest Democrat. She's the most popular woman in the country," said Kunst, who believes the polarizing senator will attract votes from Republicans who are unhappy with the Bush administration.
"The party simply says, 'Well, Hillary divisive, Hillary controversial.' We say that is an asset, not a liability," Kunst said. "Nobody gets attacked like her, but on the other hand nobody has the support like her."
Clinton has not openly declared ambitions for the presidency, though she is perennially mentioned as a contender. She received more than 600 write-in votes for vice president during the 2004 New Hampshire primary. Press Secretary Philippe Reines said Clinton is flattered by Kunst's efforts, but is concentrating on getting re-elected to the Senate next year.
Only night owls will see the animated ad, which airs Tuesday through Thursday on cable news from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. The commercial casts Clinton as President Bush's trash collector, emptying trash cans labeled "Iraq," "War on Terror" "Health Care" and "Budget" into a garbage truck for "Bush's Mess," while a giggling President Bush hides on the White House lawn.
State Republican chairman Warren Henderson declared the advertisement "vintage Democrat.... It's all about complaining and not one specific solution," he said.
Kunst makes his living in tourism marketing, but said he has been working full-time for two years to draft Clinton, holding more than 100 news conferences during that time. On Monday, he held a solo news conference in Concord, spreading a hand-lettered "Hillary '2008'" sign in front of a lectern, and offering reporters pieces of chocolate chip cookie his group sells to raise money.
"He's kind of a gadfly, but every party needs their gadflies," said Raymond Buckley, vice chairman of New Hampshire's Democratic party.
Kunst may be Clinton's biggest cheerleader, but he isn't shy about critiquing her. Lately, he is upset with her for speaking out against sexually explicit video games, instead of taking strong stands against terrorist bombings in London and Egypt.
"If she's attempting to appeal to the right wing, it's a losing proposition. They're not going to vote for her anyway," said Kunst, who would like to see Clinton leverage her star status by coming out in favor of popular issues, like legalizing marijuana.
"Hillary's got star quality and star power and she's just something different," he said. "She needs to deal with the controversies and come up with legitimate answers and approaches."