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Clinton spotlight unlikely to fade

Published Sep. 28, 2005

Just as surely as the Bush presidency is arriving, the Clinton era is ending. Or is it?

Even in post presidency, Bill Clinton is destined to remain an enormously influential force in public life _ as a speaker, campaigner, Senate spouse, Democratic Party fundraiser and _ who knows? _ maybe even candidate.

For some ex-presidents, leaving office means an irretrievable loss of power and glitter, a permanent exile to the world of three-putts and errant tee shots.

But Bill Clinton is no Gerald Ford, no Dwight D. Eisenhower. And there are ample signs he isn't going away. At 54, he will be the youngest ex-president since Teddy Roosevelt, with plenty of time to build both his presidential library in Arkansas and a second career.

Despite impeachment and sexual trysts, the public's fascination with this resilient figure has by no means dimmed. Nor, it seems, has his own fascination with the political scrum.

Then there's Hillary Clinton, the new junior senator from New York. Will she be the Democratic candidate for president, or vice president, in 2004? 2008? Or the grand dame of Washington's social and political scene?

On Friday, the Clintons signed a contract to buy a 5-bedroom, 7-bath brick colonial house near Washington's Embassy Row area for $2.85-million. They will keep as their primary residence the 5-bedroom home they bought last year in Chappaqua, N.Y..

Two major mortgages are a lot to carry. But that might be the price of the Clintons' determination to remain a powerful presence in the capital.

"She needs a place to live where she can entertain," said Lanny Davis, former White House counsel. "There's never been this situation before. She's not just another senator, she's also an ex-first lady, and they have to have something that's a little bit more than an apartment away from home."

Clearly, the Clintons will straddle the worlds of celebrity and politics in a manner unique among former first families.

"In general, presidents have rather quickly faded from the scene," said James MacGregor Burns, a presidential scholar and professor emeritus at Williams College in Massachusetts. Clinton, though, "will be a bundle of energy and will involve himself in a variety of activities because he is so able to move from problem to problem. . . . Things are wide open as to what kind of role he'll have, but he'll be very much in the public eye _ because he'll put himself in the public eye."

Historical parallels are few. Teddy Roosevelt took part in an African safari after leaving the White House in 1909, then ran unsuccessfully for president three years later on the Bull Moose ticket. Herbert Hoover was tapped by Presidents Truman and Eisenhower to study ways to reorganize the executive branch. Jimmy Carter does good deeds all over the world, rebuilding houses for Habitat for Humanity, writing books, monitoring elections and brokering peace agreements.

Clinton has identified Carter as a worthy post-presidential model. But the lure of elective politics may be too strong for him to leave it behind. U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah, D-Pa., said Clinton would appear at a campaign fundraising event on his behalf next month. Political observers say congressional candidates are sure to call on the ex-president to campaign for them _ and he is sure to oblige.

Or he could decide to put his name back on the ballot. John Quincy Adams _ much in the news these days as another president's-son-who-became-president _ won a House seat in Massachusetts after a single term as president, and served for 18 years as an effective and much-admired member of Congress.