Hillary Clinton may unite Republicans

KANSAS CITY, Missouri Mon Feb 4, 2008 1:12am EST

1 of 2. Democratic presidential candidate Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) listens as she is introduced at a campaign stop at Augsburg College in Minneapolis, Minnesota, February 3, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Brian Snyder

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KANSAS CITY, Missouri (Reuters) - Tom Effertz is 73 and a wheat farmer. Rosie Erganian is 52 and lives in a town on the Missouri River. He's a Republican. She's a Democrat. Both Missourians want anyone but Democrat Hillary Clinton for U.S. president.

"We're tired of the Hillary thing," Effertz said. "We'd had enough of Bill and Hillary."

"I do not like the way they've been kind of nasty," said Erganian, of Rocheport, Missouri. "I don't want anybody in office like that."

Tuesday is "Super Tuesday" when 24 states, Missouri among them, hold nominating contests for one or both parties. It is the biggest date in the six-month process to decide which of each party will face off in the November 4 election to succeed President George W. Bush.

When it comes to the November election, Missouri, home to the plain-speaking late President Harry Truman in the heart of America, has long been viewed as a bellwether, having voted for the winner in every presidential ballot except one since 1904.

The former first lady is virtually tied with Illinois Sen. Barack Obama among Democrats in Missouri, according to a Reuters/C-SPAN/Zogby poll released on Sunday. Super Tuesday could be a tight race nationwide for the two Democrats.

On the Republican side Sen. John McCain leads former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney in most states, but not in the big-prize state of California.

Strong anti-Clinton feeling has people in both parties speculating that if the New York senator wins the Democratic nomination she could become a powerful unifying force -- for Republicans.

'VETTED, TESTED'

The Clintons have been on the national political stage since Bill Clinton won the presidency in 1992. Once his second term ended in 2001, Hillary Clinton began her own, official, political career by winning a Senate seat from New York.

"I've been taking the incoming fire from Republicans for about 16 years now, and I'm still here, because I have been vetted, I have been tested," she said on Sunday on ABC's "This Week."

Obama's supporters and Republican leaders alike say although many voters passionately support Clinton, at least as many passionately dislike her. They offer various explanations and acknowledge that at least some are unfair.

Some anger at her is residual resentment of her husband whose second term was mired in a long impeachment process stemming from an extramarital relationship. For some it's about her policies -- pro-gun control, for universal health care.

Others cite a personality they see as too aggressive and insincere.

Clinton's campaign has brushed aside the concerns, saying she has a proven track record of winning, in her New York campaigns and in voting last month in New Hampshire and Nevada. Obama won in Iowa and South Carolina.

"I can go up against Senator McCain or any of the Republicans and be able to defend our positions, put them forward to the American people and make an affirmative case as to why I should be the president," Clinton said on ABC.

"Her record of reaching out across the aisle to find common solutions is the reason ... she has such a strong record of getting results," said Clinton spokesman Mo Elleithee, insisting that Clinton had growing support among Republicans and independent voters.

'HIGH NEGATIVES'

Concerns among Democrats about how Clinton might energize Republicans have been voiced in states with large numbers of rural, conservative voters like Missouri, Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas and others in the Midwest and South.

"She gets really high negatives among conservatives and the fundamentalist crowd," said Rice University political science professor Paul Brace. "In some states that is going to mobilize them so much so that they may overlook shortcomings of a Republican candidate."

Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri, who has endorsed Obama, is one who has said a Clinton nomination would hurt Democrats. Others in the party agree.

"It is not fair," said Missouri State Auditor Susan Montee. "But the fact is ... she is actually a lightning rod. She will bring people out to vote against her."

Wednesday's decision by former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards to pull out of the Democratic race intensified such talk because Edwards was popular with many rural Midwestern voters, who now must choose between Clinton and Obama.

"She's been polarizing and divisive for a long time, before Obama was even in the campaign," said Ken Warren, a pollster and St. Louis University political science professor.

Missouri Republican State Committee member Donna Spickert said simply: "She would mobilize the Republican Party."

(Editing by Jackie Frank)

(For more about the U.S. political campaign, visit Reuters "Tales from the Trail: 2008" online at blogs.reuters.com/trail08/)

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