Here's an obvious question that no one seems to be asking: why the hell is Hillary Clinton running for re-election in 2006? Why not move straight into a presidential campaign?
As we all know, running for the presidency from the Senate is a crippling burden, as John Kerry showed in painful detail (and Bob Dole before him). You're forced to make uncomfortable political compromises and cast awkward votes. Also, a competitive Senate race will make her potential presidential candidacy an issue, which forces her to either (a) promise not to run or (b) dodge the question and look like she's opportunistically using New York as a steppingstone -- the same issue that dogged her in 2000. John Kerry got away without making any promises in 2002 because he had no credible opposition, but I doubt Hillary will be so lucky.
So what is she doing? I can think of a few possibilities:
1) She's hedging her bets. She realizes that most of the country still sees her as a liberal and that she's likely to lose in 2008. This gives her a high-profile platform in the Senate to wait until the conditions are right for a presidential bid, either in 2008 or later.
2) She realizes that her much-touted defeat of Rick Lazio in 2000 is actually highly overrated (Democrats have actually been winning in upstate New York for some time now) and wants another convincing victory to try to answer the electability question.
3) As Mickey Kaus contends, she actually needs conservative attacks to justify a move to the center. Those attacks give her credibility with liberal voters that make it possible to do and say things that other candidates can't (like her excellent speech about abortion).
The disturbing thing about this is the parallel to Bill Clinton's political career. He had to decide whether to run again for Arkansas governor in 1990 knowing that he might run for president in 1992. He decided to run for re-election and won, which both proved his political viability and hedged his bets. Then, when conditions looked right to run for president, he broke his campaign promise to serve out his term as governor, as Encarta notes:
After his election to a fifth term in 1990, Clinton was more successful in getting his legislative program enacted. Based on his overall success at the legislative session in 1991, Clinton announced that, despite a campaign promise in 1990 to complete a four-year term, he intended to run for president because he had accomplished his goals for the state more quickly than he had imagined.
Will Hillary do the same thing? I hope not -- the increasing domination of the country's politics by a handful of political families is painfully undemocratic. It's time for new blood!