NEW YORK -- In the month since announcing her interest in a U.S. Senate seat from New York, Hillary Rodham Clinton has discussed her potential candidacy with more than 50 influential Democrats in the state, including the major party chairmen from the suburban and upstate counties crucial to winning a race.
Party officials say Clinton did not hint at her ultimate decision, but she is systematically studying the politics and issues of a state where she has never even lived. And a number of Democrats said Clinton has told them she plans to do polling and that she is looking for ways to raise money even before she makes a decision on the race. Many officials describe their conversations with the first lady as lengthy and very detailed about local issues."She's obviously been doing her homework," said Steve Pigeon, the Democratic chairman of Erie County, the state's largest Democratic stronghold outside of New York City. Pigeon said he spoke by phone to Clinton for an hour on Monday night. "I have to explain to a lot of candidates who come to me that you can't view upstate monolithically," he said. "She already knew the vast differences."
Pigeon said the first lady told him that she does not want her delay in making a decision to undercut the ability of other potential Democratic candidates -- like Rep. Nita Lowey of Westchester County -- to raise money.
Largely because of the possible impact on other likely candidates and their ability to raise money if she does not run, many Democrats have been irked by her announcement that she will not make a decision until "later this year," perhaps as late as this fall.
In apparent response to that concern, the first lady and her advisers are exploring fund-raising options: "She said they're looking for vehicles to raise money to be used for whoever the candidate is," Pigeon said. "I think as long as she's raising money that can be used no matter who runs, whether it's her or Nita, that can buy some time."
Election law lawyers said Thursday that such a vehicle might involve a committee, allowed under federal election law, that would raise money for an unspecified Senate candidate in donations of up to $1,000.
In making her calls, the first lady works from a list of 200 names provided by Harold Ickes, a former White House official and a veteran of New York politics. Her advisers say she has methodically made her way through the Democratic power structure in New York state: labor leaders, major county leaders and county executives, fund-raisers, members of the New York congressional delegation and leaders of black, Jewish, Hispanic and women's groups.
She has also had meetings at the White House with a number of New York officials -- on Thursday with New York City Comptroller Alan Hevesi and last Friday with Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.
Hevesi said that he and the first lady spoke for more than an hour, half of which he said was spent on Amadou Diallo, the unarmed African immigrant whose shooting death by New York police has led to protests against Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, a potential opponent of Clinton. Hevesi said she Clinton brought up the case herself but made no comment on Giuliani's handling of it.
In another indication that the first lady may be positioning herself as a candidate, Silver said that she elaborated on her remarks last year that a Palestinian state was "very important" to Middle East peace