Tiptoeing into the primaries
But in the battle for the Democratic presidential nomination, he might be well-coached to know that one of his distinguishing factors was an avoidance of politics as usual.
If he starts calling Clinton names, or gets too tough on her for not taking more specific positions, he runs the risk of tearing down the very advantage he has had.
Meanwhile, she cruises on, now out-raising him in campaign donations and continuing to polish her performance, as Obama and John Edwards try to increase their traction.
The campaign, spurred in part by the first election with no incumbent president or vicepresident running since the nation limited terms to two, has been good for Clinton.
It has given her a chance, through paid and free media, to define herself more for voters. Until this year's campaign, Clinton outside New York suffered from being defined by others.
Her steady performance in the run-up to the presidential nominating conventions and caucuses has given her repeated opportunities to speak and perform, and to make the case that she's warmer and fuzzier than has been perceived, and that she truly cares about people.
It's almost always interesting to see politicians of the same party compete with each other, to attempt to stand out from the crowd. But doing it by becoming an attack dog is always a calculated risk, especially when there are more than two candidates.
We in the media, of course, tend to encourage this kind of behavior, since we often don't write much about a race unless one candidate says something nasty about another. We sometimes in effect say, "If you will just slug each other, we'll be happy to hold your coats and cover the fight."
In 1976, the late U.S. Rep. Morris Udall of Arizona was seeking the Democratic presidential nomination. Asked by reporters what was wrong with his opponents, he responded by saying that he wasn't going to bash his fellow candidates, because when the dust cleared, they'd all be linking arms anyway.
A Texas politician who wanted to be governor but never made it was former Lt. Gov. Bill Hobby. His father, William P. Hobby Sr., had moved up from lieutenant governor to governor in 1917, when Gov. James "Pa" Ferguson was impeached by the Legislature.
The younger Hobby was first elected lieutenant governor in 1972, and subsequently re-elected until he retired from the office in 1991 after 18 years.
Hobby finally decided in 1987 to run for governor, after Republican Bill Clements, who'd just reclaimed the governor's chair from Democrat Mark White, said that that would be his last term.
Asked in an interview that year why he'd never run before, Hobby pointed out that there had been no governor's race since Texas switched to four-year terms in 1974 that had not had the sitting governor seeking re-election.
"Since I've been around, there has not been the opportunity to run for governor without running against an incumbent--whether (Dolph) Briscoe or Clements or White--with whom I've worked. And I just couldn't hardly ever see myself doing that," he said. "To run against an incumbent, you've got to run around the state saying that so-and-so is sorry and no good--which they're not."
Half a year later, however, after being steadily blasted by then-Atty. Gen. Jim Mattox, who also wanted the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, Hobby pulled his hat back out of the ring. He said like Clements, he'd devote his final three years in office to getting done the job to which he'd been elected.
Incidentally, for those who have forgotten, Ann Richards won a runoff against Mattox in 1990, and then won the general election.
Reach McNeely at dmcneely@austin. rr.com or (512) 323-0248.