In 2000 Race, Clinton Worked to Change Image Though a veteran of her husband's campaigns, Hillary Clinton's first race as a candidate was for the Senate seat she now holds. Her biggest task was to make voters who thought they knew her — and disliked her — change their minds.
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In 2000 Race, Clinton Worked to Change Image

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In 2000 Race, Clinton Worked to Change Image

In 2000 Race, Clinton Worked to Change Image

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Throughout this presidential campaign season, we're occasionally taking time to focus on the candidates' first campaigns. Their early runs for office may give us insight into how they're running now.

For Democrat Hillary Clinton, it's hard to define her first campaign. She was closely involved in the political successes and challenges of her husband in the 1970s and '80s and '90s. Her first run for her own major office, though, was in the year 2000, when she ran for and won a Senate seat from New York.

NPR's David Greene looks at what Clinton's 2000 race might teach us about her run for the presidency.

DAVID GREENE: Even before Hillary Clinton ran a campaign of her own, Americans knew her well - and many didn't like her. As she came to the White House, she was wrapped up in the Arkansas real estate scandal known as Whitewater. As first lady, she was put in charge of a health care initiative that went nowhere. Then when her husband had an affair with an intern, she had to defend his reputation and her own. This was on "The Today Show."

(Soundbite "The Today Show")

Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York): You know, we've been married for 22 years, Matt, and I have learned a long time ago that the only people who count in any marriage are the two that are in it. We know everything there is to know about each other.

GREENE: And New Yorkers knew a lot about Hillary Clinton when in 2000 she dropped in on their state. She had never lived in New York nor shown any special interest, yet she declared...

Sen. CLINTON: I am honored today to announce my candidacy for the United States Senate from New York.

GREENE: That moment was the beginning of her remaking, and perhaps her toughest challenge was one she set for herself, winning over people in conservative upstate. She did catch a few breaks. She first expected to face New York City's Republican Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and no New York City mayor is popular upstate. Giuliani ended up dropping out of the race, but his replacement, Rick Lazio, was lackluster.

And Clinton saw her moment.

Sen. CLINTON: My opponent has ignored upstate New York. He made it very clear he has no intention of putting forth targeted economic help in order for upstate to have the economic prosperity it deserves to have.

Unidentified Man #1: Mrs. Clinton...

GREENE: Clinton won big, trouncing Lazio in the urban areas. As for upstate, Lazio beat her in almost every county, but she did better than expected, barely losing in places like Clinton County, where I went for a recent visit.

Unidentified Man #2: This weighs 6 pounds and 2 ounces, 6-2, that is a Lake Champlain chunk...

GREENE: There's a big bash fishing tournament in Plattsburgh, a city that sits on Lake Champlain, just below Canada.

Bob Harrison(ph) is on the dock, watching the crowd of boats.

Mr. BOB HARRISON (Resident, Plattsburgh, Clinton County, New York): Before they're done here in four days, they'll probably end up close to 70-some pounds, 75 pounds a fish.

GREENE: Harrison is retired from heavy construction. He is a Republican. I asked if he voted for Hillary Clinton.

Mr. HARRISON: Not a chance.

GREENE: With rain starting to fall over the lake, I asked Harrison what bothers him about her?

Mr. HARRISON: It's not a personal thing, that I dislike her personally. I think she's made a lot of errors along the way in her husband's term, and I think she's made some now by being so vehement against the war.

GREENE: So Harrison doesn't loathe Clinton. And that's progress, according to Brian Mann. He is an upstate New York journalist who's written a book about rural politics. He says voters all over upstate would have said far worst things about Hillary Clinton before 2000. But she studied rural issues and won over at least some people. Now the question is whether she can translate that success elsewhere.

Mann's not so sure.

Mr. BRIAN MANN (North Country Public Radio): She spent a lot of years here and a lot of money, and done a lot of sort of constituent outreach here. You don't have time for that in a presidential campaign.

GREENE: Still, he says, he is surprised she's done as well as she has in upstate New York.

Mr. MANN: Did she win the hearts and minds of a lot of rural, small-town people up here? I don't think there's deep love here for her, but I do think that there is a hell of a lot of respect.

Ms. NANCY SAUCIER (ph) (Waitress): My name is Nancy Saucier, and I'm a waitress at a restaurant here in Plattsburgh, New York. And I've been waitressing for close to 30 years now.

GREENE: Nancy Saucier tells me she was no fan of Clinton as first lady.

Ms. SOSSIER: She was too showy. You're supposed to step back. If your husband is president or mayor or anything, also around here the women step back a little. They're not in the limelight as much as the husband is. Or the wife. It could happen the other way around. You don't vote for the other person; we didn't vote for her.

GREENE: Saucier is a Republican. She voted twice for President Bush and did not support Hillary Clinton's Senate campaign. But she says Senator Clinton has brought money to Clinton County and makes people feel like she cares.

Ms. SOSSIER: This is a little town, basically, it's not what you call a city like Albany. And she came here and she went up to Canton, I believe. I think you got to know her more personally. I think that's how the city has felt also. And she speaks very well. She looks nicer now. She smiles. She has good looks for a woman.

GREENE: And Saucier says she would even consider voting for her to be president - that is, if nobody in the Republican field excites her. Yet if Hillary Clinton learned lessons from upstate New York, there are also new questions.

Mr. JERRY LAVIGNE(ph): (Unintelligible) catching fish (unintelligible) you're fishing with one of the best in the business today...

GREENE: I met Jerry Lavigne out on the dock watching the fishing tournament. He's a Democrat and voted for Clinton to be his senator twice.

Mr. LAVIGNE: She's impressive. She's brilliant, just like he - just like Bill was.

GREENE: But now that she is running for president, Lavigne says he's not sure he'll stick with her.

Mr. LAVIGNE: I'm not a female hater. I got three daughters and a great wife. But I just - in this time and this day and age, I wonder if she'd be a strong enough person to make - to be at the head of the decision making in our country right now.

GREENE: That, he says, is what Hillary Clinton still has to prove.

David Greene, NPR News.

INSKEEP: You can read a political profile of Senator Clinton at

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