Running for president in 2008? Or not.
Sen. HIllary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) is putting the pieces in place to win a second term in November--and move on to a White House bid in 2008.
I asked Rep. Jerry Costello (D-Ill.) if any of the Democrats who are contemplating a 2008 White House bid have reached out to him.
"I can't say anyone has specifically called me and said, 'Hey, I want your support' for a presidential campaign," Costello replied. He's telling me about conversations that by their nature are not explicit.
"But in the last few months, I have talked to Hillary," said the Downstate lawmaker, not planning to make any 2008 endorsement. "I have talked to Joe Biden, I talked to John Edwards, those three in particular."
Hillary, of course, is Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), who is running for a second Senate term in November. At the same time, Clinton, raised in Park Ridge, is also laying the groundwork for a potential 2008 presidential campaign.
Clinton will be in Chicago on Tuesday to deliver a major speech on the economy before a sold-out crowd of about 2,800 at the Economic Club of Chicago's annual dinner.
In the afternoon, Clinton will headline a fund-raiser for Democratic Pennsylvania Treasurer Bob Casey Jr., who is running for the Senate.
Chicago investment banker Lou Susman is someone you want on your team if you are running for president.
He was the national finance director for the 2004 presidential bid of Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.). Sussman raised a staggering $244 million for Kerry.
He has heard from most everyone as the 2008 Democratic contenders constantly stream through Chicago, looking at this stage for cash at low-profile receptions and dinners where they hope to connect with high-end backers.
"At this point, I'm still listening," Susman said.
Sussman has been called by Kerry, Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.), Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner and Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack.
Clinton also phoned.
And about six weeks ago, Susman met with her at her Senate office in Washington.
Clinton is the most-often-mentioned 2008 Democratic contender. She's the favorite of every survey where pollsters run through the names of people thought to be contemplating a 2008 run for president.
That list stretches to about 11 names right now. Besides those listed above, the others are Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, retired Gen. Wesley Clark, former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) and, in recent days, former Vice President Al Gore.
Clinton staffers say she is only focusing on a victory in her New York Senate race. Winning big in New York -- without being taken down a few notches -- is the priority.
To Clinton's credit, she seems to have scared off any real competition with a formula of concentrating on upstate New York, forming strategic alliances with a handful of Republicans on some narrow issues and being extremely cautious in picking her fights.
New York Republicans have yet to find a top-tier candidate to take on Clinton. The GOP's biggest-name prospect at this point is former Yonkers Mayor John Spencer. Through the use of third-party expenditures, however, Republicans can still bloody up Clinton.
"National Republicans can't afford to let her have a cakewalk," said William Brandt, the Winnetka Democrat and fund-raiser who is also on every 2008 Democratic hopeful's call list.
Clinton is his first choice, and he won't commit to anyone until Clinton makes a decision on 2008.
Clinton fronting a fund-raiser for Casey on Tuesday afternoon at the Palmer House Hilton accomplishes a few things besides raising him a lot of money. Casey, running against Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), is anti-abortion, and that has cost him some Democratic support Clinton might help him regain.
In lending her star power to Casey, Clinton at least tries to broaden the Democratic tent on abortion, and it gives her an opening to conservatives.
Pennsylvania was a presidential battleground state in 2004 and could well be one again in 2008.
When it comes to raising money, Clinton is one of the Democrats' most prolific fund-raisers for herself and other candidates.
Through Dec. 31, Clinton's main Senate re-election fund had collected $21 million for her re-election bid and had $17 million in cash on hand as of the last reporting period. The updated numbers should be higher. April 15 is the deadline to report first-quarter fund-raising.
Clinton's two main political committees -- HILLPAC and Friends of Hillary -- share offices in a building on K Street in Washington.
Directing the political operation is Patty Solis Doyle, the sister of Chicago Ald. Danny Solis (25th) who has been with Clinton since the days of Bill Clinton's first White House campaign. HILLPAC's political director is John Gans, who graduated from Northwestern University in 2000.
As for Costello, he talked again with Clinton at a St. Patrick's Day lunch. They discussed "how she wants to get back to southern Illinois," which she traversed on a Clinton-Gore bus tour in 1992. "She talked about how she loves the people of southern Illinois, and I said you have an open invitation," Costello said.