June 5, 2008 / 5:32 PM / in 10 years

Hillary Clinton faces bright and uncertain future

By Thomas Ferraro - Analysis

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - What does Hillary Clinton want and what will she get -- other than, perhaps, returning to the U.S. Senate where she’s still a star?

The answer may emerge soon as Clinton gets ready to finally concede defeat as the first viable woman contender for the White House -- amid signs she may like to be the vice presidential running mate of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.

Paul Light of New York University’s Center for the Study of Congress said Clinton must quickly end her historic presidential bid or face party backlash.

“But if she withdraws gracefully, she will have an enormous range of opportunities,” Light said. “She could eventually become a Senate leader or end up on the Supreme Court.”

Others have suggested she might want to be New York governor -- or make another run for the White House in 2012 if Republican John McCain defeats Obama in the general election.

Clinton riled some Democrats by declining to concede when the Illinois senator wrapped up the nomination on Tuesday. She has since announced she will do so on Saturday.

Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, who backed Clinton, said, “I have no doubt that if she comes back to the Senate -- as opposed to becoming the vice presidential nominee or whatever -- she will continue to be a tremendous senator.”

“And that’s not too shabby,” Feinstein said.

Clinton joined the Senate in January 2001 after eight years in the White House as a top aide and wife of President Bill Clinton.

Some have suggested Clinton, 60, follow the lead of Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, a Democratic icon and workhorse.

After he failed to wrest the Democratic nomination from President Jimmy Carter in 1980, Kennedy returned to the Senate and became one of its most effective legislators, helping craft landmark bills, many to help the disadvantaged.

“I’ve got to believe, as trite as it may sound, that her role model now is Ted Kennedy,” said Norm Ornstein, a congressional scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

The New York Democrat “could become a real go-to person in the Senate who has the ability to attract and keep great staff, who has a real grasp for important issues, who can build relationships and has a driving desire to figure out how to make things happen,” he said.

And with the 76-year-old Kennedy being treated for brain cancer, Clinton could help fill the void his illness may create in the Senate, Ornstein said.

‘WHAT DOES HILLARY WANT’

Increased clout -- not a prestigious title -- is probably the most Clinton can hope for back in the Senate.

There are no leadership positions open for her to fill, and she lacks the seniority needed to chair any major committee.

In her home state on Tuesday night, Clinton told supporters: ”A lot of people are asking, ‘What does Hillary want?’

“Well, I want what I have always fought for in this whole campaign. I want to end the war in Iraq. I want to turn this economy around. I want health care for every American. I want every child to live up to his or her God-given potential, and I want the nearly 18 million Americans who voted for me to be respected, to be heard and no longer to be invisible.”

While Clinton backers have said she’s open to being the vice presidential nominee if it helps unite the party, Democrats seem divided whether it would help or hurt.

Clinton has been a popular yet polarizing figure since her White House days when she took on the political right wing and pushed moderate and liberal causes.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut makes no predictions on what Clinton may do, but offers advice based on the pain he felt as the Democrats’ failed 2000 vice presidential nominee.

“Psychologically, it was good for me to return to the Senate the day after,” said Lieberman, now an independent. “I say to Hillary: ‘Come back. The country needs you.'”

In the Senate, she has won admirers among Democrats and Republicans while working with them to draft bills on matters from national security to health care, her signature issue. In doing so, she has become one of America’s most powerful women.

James Thurber of American University’s Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies, said in the Senate Clinton “could become a spokesperson for the party, a historic figure and continue to rack up a distinctive career.”

“I don’t think she’ll go into leadership, though,” Thurber said, noting such jobs now held mostly by men involve a lot of clerical-type chores. “She’s above that.”

(Editing by Mohammad Zargham)

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

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