Clinton, Bayh step up exploratory efforts for White House

Sunday, December 3rd 2006, 2:44 pm

By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton met on Sunday with New York's Democratic governor-elect to solicit his support for her likely White House bid, the latest indication she is stepping up plans to join a growing field of potential contenders for 2008.

One rival, Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh, announced Sunday he was establishing an exploratory committee to raise money for a possible presidential run. He expects to decide over the Christmas holidays whether to seek his party's nomination.

A top aide to Clinton said he did not know when the former first lady would decide about pursuing the presidency or set up an exploratory committee. Clinton aides, however, have begun interviewing possible campaign staffers in recent weeks, Howard Wolfson said.

Clinton, who long has topped national polls of Democratic hopefuls, spent two hours with Gov.-elect Eliot Spitzer at his Manhattan home.

``We just had a great, wide-ranging meeting on so many issues that affect the city, the state and the country,'' Clinton said as she left the meeting.

Last week she contacted leading state lawmakers, including Democratic Reps. Charles Rangel and Nita Lowey, and the state party chairman, Denny Farrell, to assess her prospects and seek their support.

Clinton's Senate colleague, Chuck Schumer, told reporters Sunday that Clinton had called him to arrange a meeting next week. But he was coy about the purpose of the get-together.

``She wants to sit down and talk next week, which we're going to do. It could be about legislation. I have no idea what it's about, and until we sit down and talk that's all I'm going to say about it,'' said Schumer. He added, ``I think she'd make a very good president but let's wait and see. Everyone's sort of jumping the gun.''

Wolfson told The Associated Press that Clinton ``is reaching out to her colleagues in the New York delegation and asking for their advice and counsel and their support if she decides to make a run.''

Clinton easily won re-election last month to a second term in the Senate. Wolfson noted that Clinton long has said she would begin actively considering a presidential bid after that election. ``That process has begun,'' Wolfson said.

Thirteen months before the first votes are cast in the nomination process, the presidential jockeying has intensified in both parties.

Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack announced his bid for the Democratic nod last week; Bayh is taking the initial steps; and others, such as the party's 2004 ticket of Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, are weighing possible runs.

The effort comes as Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, a rising star in Democratic politics, enjoys a wave of publicity and momentum around a possible White House bid.

Obama, a clear challenger to Clinton's front-runner status, has appeared before huge crowds around the country, promoting his best-selling book, ``The Audacity of Hope.''

He met with aides in Chicago last week and they expect him to disclose his intentions about a 2008 run in a matter of weeks.

On the Republican side, Sen. John McCain of Arizona and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani have established exploratory committees; so, too, has long-shot candidate Rep. Duncan Hunter of California. Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is moving toward a possible bid and Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback is expected to announce soon about his intentions.

Bayh, appearing on ABC's ``This Week,'' acknowledged he was not well-known outside Washington and Indiana, but said he had the credentials necessary to be an effective president.

``As the people get to know me, I think we'll do very well. I've been a successful two-term governor with a record of delivering results. I now have national security experience from my presence in the Senate,'' he said. ``Is this a little bit like David and Goliath? A little bit, but as I recall, David did OK.''

Bayh, 50, has charted a relatively centrist course in the Senate. He has appearances scheduled this week in Iowa and New Hampshire, two states with early contests on the presidential campaign calendar. As of Sept. 30, he had about $10.5 million in his Senate campaign account, all of which can be transferred to a presidential committee.

Clinton, for her part, has as much as $13 million left from her Senate race, plus a vast network of donors and advisers led by her husband, former President Clinton.

Vilsack told ABC his candidacy would appeal to a broad range of voters in states not traditionally friendly to Democrats.

``I think it's important for Democrats to be able to expand. I think our party has got to expand the map,'' Vilsack said. ``I think we can do this. I think I can do it. I think I have done it in my state.''

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