News & Politics

Hillary Clinton’s World

From the crack of dawn when the hairstylist arrives to late at night when she settles in with a briefing book, Hillary Rodham Clinton’s life in Washington is perpetual motion. It’s also one she hopes will take her back to the White House.

A dozen Japanese students, young men and women in sober black business suits, are running across the terrace of the Cannon House office building. The pop singer Jewel, on Capitol Hill to talk about breast cancer, has just walked by in heels so spiked they could blow a tire. But it’s another celebrity blonde the students are racing to see.

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, coming from a news conference with House members, is walking down the steps of the Cannon building toward her Town Car. If they hurry, the students might catch a look at the most famous black pantsuit in America.

“I think you’ve just seen the next president of the United States,” New York congressman Steve Israel tells the students as the senator’s car pulls away.

There is much excited chatter—all of it in Japanese.

One young woman is talking about what she thinks of Clinton. “That means ‘competent,’ ” their professor translates.

The students know very little English.

But they know Hillary.

As she embarks on her bid for the presidency, the First Lady turned senator faces any number of hurdles—her 2002 Iraq vote, the healthcare debacle of the Clinton White House years, her cool and calculating image, the shadow of her husband.

Recognition isn’t one of them. Everyone knows Hillary—or at least thinks so. She has called herself the most famous person nobody really knows.

In a back room at Charlie Palmer Steak, where she spoke to a group of Democratic donors, one person said she told a story about meeting a man at an event who had said he was impressed that she had once been a champion diver. No, she told him, she’d never been a champion diver. Yes, the man insisted, he was certain of it. Finally, she gave up: Okay, she shrugged, maybe I was.

It was not the first time Hillary Clinton would try to convince someone she was not the person he thought she was.

In fact, much of her work for the last six years has been devoted to recasting herself. She has sought to erase the negatives that emerged from her White House years—through her own missteps but with help from Republicans who portrayed her as a power-grabbing lefty. At every turn, she has tried to prove to colleagues in the Senate, constituents in New York, and now voters across the country that she is smart, hard-working, amiable, and approachable, a moderate with Midwestern roots and values.

Her front-runner status in the presidential race, her emergence as a center of gravity in the Democratic Party, and her ability to lower the volume of much of the animus once directed at her are testaments to her success so far.

When she walked into her first town-hall meeting in Iowa as a presidential candidate this year, her staff, many of them women who have built their lives around her, stood speechless for a moment. They saw the hillary for president banner, the sea of blue-and-white placards, the reality of how far they had come.

“Oh my God,” one thought. “This is really happening.”

In some ways, the 2008 campaign trail started for Hillary Clinton in an unlikely place: on the couch in West Virginia senator Robert Byrd’s office before she was sworn in as a senator. Her overture to Byrd, now 89 and the recognized keeper of the Senate flame, was the first sign that the senator-elect meant business and had a game plan.

She would dial down her star power and, though she has Secret Service protection as a former first lady, try to blend in. She would focus on state issues. She would reach out across the aisle, disarming even the fiercest Clinton haters.

“She had a roll-up-your-sleeves plan,” says her pollster and campaign strategist Mark Penn. “Not to be the celebrity senator but to be the hard-working senator.”

Byrd had not been a Hillary fan, he says now. In 1993 and ’94, he helped derail Clinton’s healthcare plan. But when she showed up at his office after her election, asking how she could be a good senator, he was charmed. “Here was the former first lady of the land coming to me asking for advice,” Byrd recalls.

She continued to pay visits to him, introducing him to her mother, and was always deferential. “She always called me Senator Byrd and does now,” he says. The relationship paid off. After 9/11, Clinton went to Byrd, chair of the Appropriations Committee, and asked for his help on a $20-billion aid package for New York.

Byrd now calls her “one of the best senators that I have ever known.”

Clinton’s office in the Russell building, painted yellow, her favorite color, is crammed with mementos and photos including one of Robert F. Kennedy, one of the Clintons in the Oval Office, and a composite photo of Hillary with her hero, Eleanor Roosevelt. There’s a mockup of a Wheaties box with Hillary’s picture on it. Some needlepoint pillows, one of the cover of her book It Takes a Village, which a volunteer in the Clinton White House made her. She chose the office from among three that were offered because it was in the Russell building, the grandest of the three Senate buildings, she thought, and because it had belonged to her predecessor, the late senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (it was burgundy then, and the kitchen area was a bar).

About once a week, the hallway outside her office looks like a chaotic movie set, with half a dozen groups positioned by her staff in clusters—members of the National Treasury Employees Union here, students from New York’s Daemen College there—ready for Clinton to move through for photos.

Within five minutes, the hallway is filled with passersby pointing their cell phones at her. “She’s seven feet away from me!” one man says into his phone. “I just took her picture. She’s got high heels on!”

Clinton shakes every hand of the visitors and greets tourists on the Hill with a smile and cheery “Hi, everyone.” She readily signs autographs. She is gracious to a Senate subway operator.

Her relationship with the media is more mercurial. At off-the-record events or one-on-one conversations with reporters, she can be so captivating, says one journalist, “I have to go to detox.” But reporters who cover Capitol Hill say she can be brittle, often giving off a “don’t approach me” vibe. And her communications staff is known to be controlling. Many Clinton friends and associates won’t talk to a reporter unless it is sanctioned by her staff.

Like a sort of rehab center with marble floors, the Senate has been the perfect place for Clinton to spend her post–White House years and prepare for a presidential run. Friends say she has been content there and note that, at 59, she looks better than she did ten years ago. No more trying new hairdos, as if searching for the right persona, or new styles of clothes. She has kept the same hairstyle for years, thanks to Cristophe stylist Isabelle Goetz, who says she goes to Clinton’s house almost every day at the crack of dawn. And the senator always wears tailored pantsuits, many of them black.

The Senate has proved an easy place for a superachiever like Clinton to shine. Like her husband, Clinton revels in the intricacies of policy, whether it’s healthcare reform or repairs on New York’s Tappan Zee Bridge.

She leaves the office with a binder of briefing materials, which she often doesn’t get to until 9:30 or 10 when she arrives home from any number of book parties, fundraisers, awards dinners, or receptions. She sometimes does several drop-bys in one night. Her staff says she gets up to 36,000 invitations a year.

In the morning, say aides, she receives a packet of newspaper clips—more than 150 pages of stories—and has read it by the morning phone calls she has with staff on the drive to Capitol Hill, anywhere between 7:30 and 9.

On any issue that comes up, says Maryland senator Barbara Mikulski, “she has read every memo, read the books, and she knows two of the experts personally.”

Terry McAuliffe, former head of the Democratic National Committee and one of the Clintons’ best friends, says Hillary is a different sort of policy wonk than her husband.

When he gave both Clintons galley proofs of his recently published book, much of it about his association with the Clintons, the former president said he loved it and left it at that. Hillary had praise but also lots of corrections. She gave him the manuscript back with “red marks all through it,” says McAuliffe, and suggested changes down to the punctuation.

Representative Israel says that at breakfast meetings of the New York delegation, “some members are standing in line to get food; others are in casual conversation. She’s at her seat studying her notebook.”

He believes that preparation and attention to detail are what has made her popular in New York. When Clinton was scheduled to come to the Deer Park post office in Israel’s Long Island district after she was elected, there was such hostility—the district had been represented by Clinton’s 2000 opponent, Rick Lazio—that Israel called her office to warn that it might get ugly. Clinton showed up and stayed an hour longer than expected. Israel says no one would leave without having a photo taken with the senator.

“Some people say it’s the celebrity status,” says Israel. “Some people say the expectations were so low, they expect to see a fire-breathing dragon and they see a real person. I think it’s something different. I talked to people at Deer Park who thought they hated her. But she was able to talk about traffic on the Long Island Expressway, drag racing on Deer Park Avenue, how expensive medicine was at the CVS. She could have been a town councilwoman that day.”

Clinton also worked
hard to fit in with the 99 other egos in her new club. Indiana senator Evan Bayh, who has known Clinton for 20 years, says he was surprised on a trip with her to the Middle East not only by her penchant for spicy food but by her willingness to forgo the spotlight. Senate protocol dictates that the most senior lawmaker—in this case Bayh—sit closest to the foreign head of state at meetings. Bayh knew there was far greater media interest in Clinton and offered to give her the seat. “I knew what the reality of the situation was,” he says. But Clinton said no.

Through the years, Clinton has been a regular at the monthly dinners the women senators have held at the Monocle (their ground rule: “What happens at the salad bar stays at the salad bar”). And she threw a baby shower at her home near Embassy Row for Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison when the Texas Republican adopted a baby girl.

It was a memorable event—and not only because it took place on September 10, 2001. The women sat around Senator Clinton’s pool out back, gave Hutchison gag gifts and grief about becoming a mother in midlife, and got along like any group of women who work together, says Mikulski.

Because Bill Clinton is seldom around during her workweek in Washington, Hillary occasionally has dinner with colleagues: She’s been to BlackSalt and Cafe Milano, two of her favorite restaurants here, with Dianne Feinstein, and is a frequent guest at Ted Kennedy’s home. She and New York’s senior senator, Chuck Schumer, have dinner together regularly.

When the restaurant is her choice, it’s usually a quiet, upscale place where fellow diners are more apt to leave them alone, Schumer has said. When it’s his choice, it’s Hunan Dynasty on Capitol Hill, where the entire kitchen and waitstaff have been known to come out to take photos and ask for autographs. “This was where we had our first date,” Clinton said at a book party she threw for Schumer at the Chinese restaurant. “The fortune cookies for both of us were pretty good that night.”

Even as she may try to be one of the guys, her celebrity status is seldom forgotten. At the Schumer book party, people were asking Clinton to sign Schumer’s book. And at times—like election years—that star status has been useful.

A money magnet for her party, Clinton has held dozens of fundraisers at her DC home, called Whitehaven after the street it’s on, for herself and colleagues. She contributed $2 million to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee last year and made appearances all over the country. Her largesse not only helped Democrats win the House and Senate; it created an army of lawmakers who are now indebted to her.

Many members of Congress buy or rent a small apartment for the weekdays they spend in Washington, even sharing places with their colleagues. When Hillary Clinton knew she’d be staying in Washington after the 2000 election, the Clintons looked for someplace big, a house that could become a center of political activity and fundraising.

It would be the first time the Clintons ever had to go house hunting in Washington. When the Yale Law School graduate came to Washington in 1974 to work on the Watergate inquiry committee, she stayed at the Southwest DC house of Sara Ehrman, a friend from George McGovern’s campaign. Once President Nixon resigned and Hillary’s job ended, Ehrman drove the bright young lawyer to Arkansas, telling her she thought she was making a mistake by leaving opportunities in the big city for a guy.

Twenty-six years and two presidential terms later, the Clintons would sneak out of the White House and into a limousine with Terry and Dorothy McAuliffe in late November 2000 in search of a Washington home. McAuliffe says they looked at eight or nine houses that day, with the two women checking out the closets, the bathrooms, which way the sun comes in (“She loves sunlight,” says McAuliffe), and the two men looking for a TV to catch some college basketball.

There was a big house with a walled garden on a corner in Georgetown that Hillary fell in love with, says McAuliffe. But it was expensive—$4.5 million—and she realized she would become a tourist attraction in Georgetown and make life hard for the Secret Service.

Finally, they found the six-bedroom, 7½-bath brick neo-Georgian at the end of a quiet, dead-end street, which they bought for $2.85 million, down from the asking price of $3.5 million. The house, built in 1951, is their weekday place.

When Clinton is not on the campaign trail, she spends weekends at the couple’s home in Chappaqua, New York, a century-old Dutch Colonial they bought in 1999 for $1.7 million. Although the Clintons left the White House owing millions in legal fees, the New York senator is now worth $10 million, according to Roll Call, which ranked her the 25th-richest member of Congress thanks to their twin book deals and Bill Clinton’s heavy speaking schedule.

Those who’ve spent
time at the Washington house say it is smartly decorated—“simple elegance,” says one friend. The living room is done in shades of soft yellow, the dining room an intense blue. There is colorful artwork such as a painting they bought in Vietnam that’s over the fireplace and lots of art glass—Bill loves glass, says a friend—including one Chihuly piece. There’s a bedroom for Chelsea, although, like Bill, she’s rarely there, and an upstairs study for Hillary. Bill’s home office is at their place in New York, as is a home gym.

Hillary has said that although she works out some, her preferred form of exercise is walking. Instead of taking the small subway car that runs between the Russell building and the Capitol, she’ll walk outside, says her staff. And she likes to take brisk walks in Rock Creek Park, not far from her home behind the British Embassy and US Naval Observatory. When on vacation with the McAuliffes, the foursome will have a 5-o’clock power walk, with Terry and Hillary in front and Bill and Dorothy, at a less rigorous pace, behind.

Last fall, Hillary’s mother, Dorothy Rodham, moved in with her at Whitehaven. She stays there when Hillary is on the campaign trail or at home in New York. Clinton’s friends says Mrs. Rodham lives in Washington in part to be near her grandson—the child of Tony Rodham, Hillary’s brother, and Senator Barbara Boxer’s daughter, Nicole, who are now divorced. At 87, Mrs. Rodham has her own circle of friends here and is strong and vibrant. “I’ve been out with Mrs. Rodham till 1 am,” says someone close to Hillary.

There is no live-in housekeeping staff, say those close to the Clintons, but a Filipino woman comes every morning. Outside, there is always at least one parked van—the Secret Service presence.

In both Washington and New York, a Secret Service agent drives Clinton wherever she goes by car. Friends say it’s likely been years since she’s been behind the wheel and probably years since she’s been out clothes shopping. One friend says she has outfits brought to her to look at. “I’ve never heard her talking about going to the mall, let’s put it that way,” says someone close to her.

Whitehaven’s greatest asset, say many who have been there, is a backyard with a pool, patio, and landscaped grounds sprawling enough for a large tent, which the Clintons often put up for parties.

In 2005, the Clintons renovated the house, bumping out the back to enlarge the kitchen and add a sunroom. “It can hold a lot more people now,” says McAuliffe, estimating that 120 people could fit comfortably in the house. “I love it!”

The front entrance was redesigned for easier access—the curved driveway improved and a covered porch with columns erected by the front door—and black shutters were added. The new sunroom, with its cream-colored walls, velvet couch, French doors, and family photos, was the setting for Clinton’s Web video announcing “I’m in.” Decorated, like the rest of the house, by Georgetown interior designer Rosemarie Howe, it is so picture-perfect, with a golden glow coming from a bronze deer lamp, that pundits speculated it was a stage set.

In the early White House years, Hillary was criticized for not plunging into the Washington social scene. Society writers fretted that the Clintons were slow to hold a state dinner and derided them as Arkansas hayseeds with little sense of style. “Both of them were deeply suspicious of the Georgetown media culture and carried around a fair degree of resentment at what they thought was the snobbery and unfair judgment they were subjected to,” says Bill Clinton biographer John Harris.

But over the past six years, Clinton has emerged as her own sort of social hub, a center of Democratic entertaining and fundraising in the spirit of Pamela Harriman, who helped bankroll the party through glittery soirees at her Georgetown home. Today, an invitation to the Clinton home is one of the most coveted tickets in Washington. If it requires writing a large check, guests seem to oblige. “People will travel quite a distance to spend an evening with Hillary,” says Ann Lewis, a senior campaign adviser. “People will walk around, look at their photos and pictures on the walls. It’s clear you’re coming into a home.”

In some ways, Clinton created her own Democratic National Committee. During the 2006 election cycle, she sometimes held two to three events a week at Whitehaven. “A lot of people in the party ask her to open her home, and she’s gracious. She understands the draw,” says longtime Clinton friend and supporter Robert Johnson.

At larger events, like cocktail parties or buffet dinners, Clinton will circulate for a while and then make remarks. There is always a photographer. At parties of 40 to 50, she may set up tables of eight and go table-hopping, making sure to have a talk with everyone. At more intimate gatherings—like “max out” events for her Senate campaign in which donors gave $4,200, the maximum allowed for the primary and general election together in 2006—she may have 20 people around a dinner table, says a Democratic operative.

The Democrat likens these smaller events to the infamous White House coffees President Clinton’s supporters were invited to. “What got missed with the coffees was that it was about building relationships,” he says. “It’s something of a hallmark of the Clintons that they really establish relationships.”

In her preannouncement days last year, Hillary invited party leaders from Iowa to her Washington home for talks, using a sort of “Whitehaven strategy,” her version of a “Rose Garden strategy” in which presidents have campaigned for reelection from the White House.

Hillary’s neighbors are mostly diplomats and other high-powered Washingtonians, used to the commotion her events can cause. She shares Whitehaven Street with the Brazilian and Danish embassies; former Reagan and Bush Treasury secretary Nicholas Brady and his wife, Katherine; GOP strategist Wayne Berman, former assistant secretary of Commerce for the first President Bush, and his wife, Lea, until recently White House social secretary; Energy secretary Samuel Bodman and his wife, Diane; architect Leo Daly and his well-dressed wife, Grega; and Harvard University’s Center for Hellenic Studies.

The Bermans, who have had Clinton to their own grand home for dinner, say on several occasions they’ve both held fundraisers on the same night. One night, parking was such a disaster that Clinton’s staff sent the Republican couple flowers the next day with a card saying, “I hope your event went well—but not too well.”

Another time, when the Bermans were having a dinner party for Florida Republican governor Jeb Bush, Terry McAuliffe walked in by mistake. “Berman, what are you doing here?” the confused Democrat said. “Macker, I live here,” Berman said. McAuliffe had a good laugh and left, but not without first talking with the President’s brother.

Twenty minutes later, former Bill Clinton adviser Sidney Blumenthal walked in. “He saw Jeb Bush, blanched, and couldn’t get out of there fast enough,” says Berman.

Republicans may not be frequent guests at Clinton’s home. But the friendships Clinton cultivated with Republicans on Capitol Hill have proved to be as valuable as those within her party, maybe more so. It’s been hard for the anti-Hillary forces to muster the head of steam they once had when people like Newt Gingrich are singing her praises and Senator John McCain is saying she’d make a good president. In this early stage, it’s been the forces left of Clinton who have been her most vocal critics.

At hearings of the Armed Services committee, she and Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina nod to each other across the well, a sign of the bond between the former first lady and the former GOP House member who argued for the impeachment of her husband.

She has worked on legislation with Clinton critics like Newt Gingrich, Tom DeLay, Rick Santorum, Bill Frist, even Trent Lott, who wished for lightning to strike rather than have “this Hillary” join the Senate after the 2000 election.

A photo in her office is signed by McCain, “To my favorite traveling companion.” It’s a shot of the two of them in Iraq in February 2005 before a joint appearance on Meet the Press at which they appeared so chummy that host Tim Russert joked about a “fusion ticket.”

A year earlier, according to the New York Times, the two held a vodka-drinking contest, at Clinton’s suggestion, while on a congressional trip to Estonia. Afterward, McCain told his GOP colleagues she was so engaging that she was like “one of the guys.”

Clinton surprised some colleagues by joining the Wednesday-morning prayer group, a private session of only about a dozen senators, many of them the Senate’s best-known religious conservatives.

Clinton’s friends say she is deeply religious and has looked to her faith—she’s a Methodist—to get her through difficult periods. In the White House, she was part of a women’s prayer group that included a number of Republicans including James Baker’s wife, Susan.

The Senate prayer group operates below the radar; Clinton’s staff does not list it on her schedule, and the meetings are off the record. But at one session that Senator Sam Brownback has talked about, the conservative Kansas Republican admitted to the group that he had “hated” Senator Clinton and said unkind things about her. He then turned to the person who had inspired such venom and asked the former first lady to forgive him. She said she would.

It’s unlikely that
these alliances will stand the test of a presidential campaign. Graham in recent months has stepped up his criticism of Clinton on Iraq. McCain has since denied the vodka episode. Gingrich recently suggested that Clinton was a “nasty woman.”

And Clinton, for her part, is no longer playing down her rock-star status or leaving the national issues to others.

There’s been no more important element in her preparation for a presidential run than her assignment to the Armed Services committee, one of the so-called Super-A committees, which has focused for the last several years on the Iraq war. The committee meetings and hearings are sacrosanct to her, trumping everything else on her schedule. She is known for arriving at the start of hearings even though her junior status means she may not ask a question for several hours.

It’s no surprise that the senators she most respects on defense issues, according to some close to her, are Democrats Carl Levin of Michigan and Jack Reed of Rhode Island and Virginia Republican John Warner, all of them colleagues on Armed Services.

“If these guys say something on Iraq or on a national-security or defense matter, she’s likely to listen to it more than probably most of her other colleagues if not all 96 of them,” says one associate.

Her vote authorizing the Iraq war and her failure to disavow that vote have turned out to be flashpoints on the campaign and possible dealbreakers for some Democrats. Still, Clinton’s presence on Armed Services has given her credibility and a platform for weighing in on the most pressing issue of the day.

At a press conference after a trip to Iraq and Afghanistan in January with Bayh and New York representative John McHugh, Clinton may have deferred to the others to speak first, but no one wondered why the room was so packed.

“There are a few more people here than my usual press conference,” Bayh joked.

“If you think these are different from your press conferences . . . ,” McHugh then said.

Clinton, wearing a bright red jacket that day, just smiled as the cameras, all pointed at her, kept clicking away.

The Clintons spent last Christmas on the Caribbean island of Anguilla at the home of Robert Johnson, a longtime friend who spent many a weekend at Camp David and traveled through sub-Saharan Africa with them in 1998.

Johnson spread the word among the other celebrity vacationers that the Clintons were there, and he put together a casual party at a beach bar. The group included actors Denzel Washington, Anne Hathaway, and Zhang Ziyi, movie producer Harvey Weinstein, billionaire investor Dirk Ziff, Tennessee representative Harold Ford, record executive Lyor Cohen. They ate lobster and drank beer till 9 or 10 at night, and Washington, for one, came away impressed with Hillary.

By then, Clinton had made her decision to run and was getting advice from all corners. Johnson says he told her she’d have to work hard to reach out to African-American voters who might feel a strong urge to support Illinois senator Barack Obama.

But mostly, the goal of the getaway was quiet time for Clinton and her top adviser. When Johnson asked Bill Clinton if he wanted to play golf, an offer the former president is not known for refusing, he demurred. “It’s not going to work,” Bill told Johnson. “I have to go over campaign strategy.”

Hillary’s universe of advisers and assistants is vast. There are key strategists from the Clinton White House such as Mark Penn, Mandy Grunwald, John Podesta, Harold Ickes, and Ann Lewis. There are dozens of new recruits as well as many of the fiercely devoted, even worshipful women from “Hillaryland,” the First Lady’s operation at the White House, such as Patti Solis Doyle, now her campaign manager, and Huma Abedin, an American Muslim who grew up in Saudi Arabia and has long been Hillary’s personal assistant.

But Bill Clinton is adviser number one. A black-and-white photo in Penn’s office points to Bill’s role. In it, he is looking over Penn’s shoulder at a draft of the speech Hillary would give at New York’s state Democratic convention in 2000.

“It’s no different than when he was running and Hillary would look at something and make comments,” says Penn, one of the architects of Bill Clinton’s reelection. “He follows things and, as you know, isn’t shy. But she calls the shots.”

There’s been much debate about whether the former president is an asset or liability. In the earliest days of the campaign, he was invisible, allowing Hillary to present herself to the electorate as a candidate in her own right. She’s referred to him strategically, in places like New Hampshire where he’s very popular. He appeared with her in Selma, Alabama, in early March but kept his remarks to a minimum.

The tightrope Hillary has to walk is trumpeting the accomplishments of the Clinton era without opening herself up to discussions of the dark side—her husband’s character and the impeachment saga. Already, she has bristled at even the faintest mention of her husband’s troubles and served notice that the subject is off-limits.

Another fear is that the former president is such a charismatic figure that he could upstage his wife. Many pundits noted their twin tributes at the funeral of Coretta Scott King last year. His was electrifying, hers leaden.

“He’s so extraordinary, and she comes across with the GuardAll Shield,” says one Democratic operative. “On the other hand, if he softens her and warms her, that’s a good thing. I think it’s more of a plus than a minus. Some of the things that make him warm and wonderful make him too warm and wonderful. There’s no problem of that with Hillary.”

For the past six years, the Clintons have led fairly separate lives, as least during the week. They are together some on the weekends in Chappaqua and occasionally in Washington.

When Bill is in Washington, the Clintons generally go to restaurants with the McAuliffes. Earlier this year they went to the new Indian restaurant Rasika in DC’s Penn Quarter; Chelsea, who was also in town, ate at a separate table with a group of friends.

And in January, the foursome ventured into Bush territory and dined at the Peking Gourmet in Baileys Crossroads. (Hillary had been visiting her brother Tony, who was at a Fairfax hospital recovering from heart surgery.) No matter that the Chinese restaurant gained fame as a favorite of George H.W. Bush’s and is wallpapered with photos of Bush relatives and friends. When the Clintons walked in, “the place went wild,” says McAuliffe. “Before we left they’d posed for 10,000 pictures. The whole kitchen staff came out. It probably took 45 minutes to leave the restaurant.”

McAuliffe says sometimes the four of them just relax at the Clintons’ home, sitting around the kitchen and rummaging through the refrigerator. “I’ll have a beer, Bill has a Diet Coke,” says McAuliffe. “Hillary might have a beer with me or a glass of wine, maybe a vodka.”

Though the Clintons love to go to the movies—McAuliffe says Hillary gave him a half-hour dissertation on why the James Bond film Casino Royale was great—they’re more likely to do that in New York.

She’s her most rested and peaceful in Chappaqua, say friends, where she can walk around town or go out to a quiet lunch. In Washington, it’s all about work, even the socializing. “The reality is, she’s going all the time,” says Melanne Verveer, her former chief of staff in the White House.

It’s a life few can imagine. But friends say it’s one she relishes. “It’s her moment to have the stage, to be the principal, the one in front, the candidate,” says Dorothy McAuliffe. “She was always destined to it. Now it’s her turn.”

If all goes according to the Clinton playbook, in less than two years, the couple will pack up their art glass, their plasma TV, the antiques that Hillary bought years ago in small towns outside of Camp David.

In late 2008, their stately home on Whitehaven could be back on the market: 6 br, 7.5 ba on quiet street, gorgeous yard, new sunroom, great place for entertaining. sellers in a hurry to move.

Susan Baer

Susan Baer is a former Washingtonian editor and Baltimore Sun correspondent who has also written for CNN and the Washington Post. She can be reached at [email protected].