Hillary Rodham Clinton never met a political battle she didn't like. Until now.
Amid frenzied inside-Washington speculation about her political ambitions, the secretary of state is staying firmly on the sidelines. As Democrats and Republicans fight for control of Congress in next month's midterms, the former first lady and senator will be sitting it out, literally half a world away.
Clinton ran staff and reporters ragged during her 2008 Democratic presidential campaign. Now, barred by convention and tradition from partisan political activity as America's top diplomat, she is spending the weeks ahead of the Nov. 2 balloting doing administration business in Europe and Asia.
"I am not in any way involved in any of the political campaigns that are going on up to this midterm election," Clinton said last week.
Politicking isn't a problem for her husband, former President Bill Clinton. On Monday, he was in Kentucky to bolster support for Democratic Senate candidate Jack Conway, who is facing a strong run by Republican Rand Paul, and then headed to West Virginia to help Democratic Gov. Joe Manchin's bid against Republican John Raese.
The next day, the former president is expected to join a rally in Las Vegas to boost Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who is running hard for re-election against Republican Sharron Angle. In Colorado, ahead of early voting in the state, Bill Clinton is scheduled to rally voters in Denver on Oct. 18 on behalf of Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet. That visit comes in spite of Clinton's endorsement of Bennet's primary challenger, Andrew Romanoff.
Fast-paced campaign appearances amid political twists and turns have been a part of Hillary Clinton's life for decades. Not any more, she maintains, though her absence from the midterms campaign scene has done nothing to quell rumors that she might swap jobs with Vice President Joe Biden for the 2012 presidential race.
Also whispered: She harbors a desire to run for the White House again in 2016.
Those rumors persist despite denials from Clinton and her staff, as well as the White House. Keeping the chatter alive are polls showing that the public sees Clinton more favorably than either Obama or Biden.
A recent Associated Press-GfK poll showed Clinton with a 62 percent favorable rating and a 36 percent unfavorable rating. Obama's numbers in a recent poll are 57 percent favorable and 42 percent unfavorable while Biden's, from last August, are 50 percent favorable versus 43 percent unfavorable.
When asked recently about the Biden swap scenario, she replied, "I have absolutely no interest and no reason for doing anything other than just dismissing these stories and moving on."
One of Clinton's predecessors and the first woman to serve as secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, famously boasted that she had her political instincts "surgically removed" when she took the job. Clinton hasn't gone that far, but she has come close.
"I have no advice for anyone in politics," she said in late September. "I am out of politics."
Her travel schedule appears to prove that point — at least for this year.
After returning from Europe late on Thursday, Clinton plans to kick off a long tour of Asia in Vietnam before the end of October, a trip that officials say will take her to Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and perhaps other stops.
Exact dates for the trip haven't been announced, but Clinton isn't expected to return to Washington until at least Nov. 8. That's six days after the results of the midterm elections will be known.
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