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Hey Hillary! Hillary?

Heidi Dallin, a ringer for the first lady, likes the perks of resembling someone famous and hopes Hillary Clinton's political career will be long and high-profile.

If there are only two rules by which I've always lived my life, they are these: Never ask a woman if she's pregnant, and never begin a sentence by saying, "You look just like . . ."

Then I met Heidi Dallin.

I stare in disbelief, looking at those famous eyes, at her prominent cheeks, at the mouth that we've all seen form so many thousands of words. When she laughs, it is a laugh that has been recorded countless times on the nightly news. When she turns to her side, it is a profile captured in newspaper photographs around the world.

I find myself at a loss of control, unable to prevent the exclamation, "You look just like Hillary Clinton."

Ends up, it's not an original observation. She is, in the parlance of the acting trades, a look-alike, a dead ringer, actually, for perhaps the most famous, most controversial woman in America today. And as much as it's nice and even important never to let looks get in the way of how we lead our lives _ I, for one, refuse to dwell on my own haunting resemblance to Harrison Ford (and appreciate that no one I know has ever even raised the point) _ when you're Heidi Dallin, it dictates an enormous portion of your life.

Tourists crowd around her in delighted disbelief. Taxi drivers swerve to the curb when they see her beckoning their cabs. Men approach her in bars with pickup lines that begin, "Do you have to go back to the White House tonight?"

In the restaurant in which we are having lunch, the waitstaff is clucking about her looks in a far corner, and other diners are seen craning their necks for a clearer view.

And in this great commercial enterprise that we call America, Heidi Dallin has learned to make a buck off her less-than-distinct looks.

We live in a celebrity-crazed culture where people who look like famous people are treated with deference. So corporations fly Heidi around the country to make appearances dressed as Hillary. Executives jockey to shake her hand in a receiving line. Audiences sit enraptured as she delivers speeches.

It all began around the time Hillary appeared on 60 Minutes during the 1992 presidential primaries in defense of her husband. Someone pointed out to Heidi a resemblance she hadn't yet seen.

"Then my mother said, "You know what, I'll be honest with you, you do look like her'," Heidi says.

Soon enough, she appeared at a bank opening in Concord with invited guests and a Bill Clinton look-alike who flirted with anything in a skirt. Since then, as she has pursued other acting and public relations jobs, she has been hired to work a party hosted by the Boston law firm Hale and Dorr. At the 375th anniversary gala in her native Gloucester, Mass., she was whisked to the event in a police car with its lights flashing, escorted to the stage by uniformed officers, then delivered a speech in full Hillary mode to people who have known her since birth.

As a Harvard graduate, she has the brains to play the role of someone reputed to be so smart. As an accomplished actor who dreams of performing in Broadway musicals, she has the ability to mimic the most subtle elements of Hillary Clinton's carriage.

And after being called Hillary so many times by so many people on so many street corners, she feels an odd kinship with a woman she has never actually met. She even can tell when Hillary's popularity is up or down by the way people treat her.

"I feel an obligation," she says. "I want to represent her well. I have respect for her. She's the first lady, and she's a strong woman who has served well."

She is asked if Hillary was right to stay with Bill. "I don't know what's wrong with keeping a marriage together," she replies. "Her decision was for the good of the country."

But more often, her thoughts are less lofty. Hillary's constant makeovers have not been easy or inexpensive to follow. But follow she must. And she's rooting for Hillary in the New York Senate campaign, because being the look-alike of a former first lady isn't worth much on the circuit.

All of which must say something about the state of our country today _ that we've gone over the top when lawyers and bankers and other people with supposed smarts pay good money to be around someone who looks like someone who happens to be in the news.

Heidi just smiles about the whole thing in that first-lady way of hers. "It's fun to go to the events and meet people," she says. "I tell my New York friends, vote for Hillary."

Brian McGrory's e-mail address is mcgroryglobe.com.

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