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THE MODEL DAUGHTER

Chelsea Clinton would become the first to be first child twice if her mother is elected.

Asked which parent Chelsea Clinton most resembles, friends tick through the mother-daughter similarities:

There is the habit of pre-empting questions by asking lots of them. The passionate interest in health care. The tendency to sound a bit scripted when talking about policy, even in private. The way both borrowed on family contacts to establish post-White-House careers, but won over skeptical colleagues with their diligence and enthusiasm.

And if her mother, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, manages to become the first female president of the United States, Chelsea Clinton could be in a historic, head-spinning position of her own: the first first child twice over.

She certainly brings experience to the job. At age 12, she appeared in Bill Clinton's "Man From Hope" video, testifying to his fatherly virtues. (Clinton also told viewers of his daughter's forgiving reaction to his admissions about marital transgressions.) During the Monica Lewinsky scandal six years later, she was photographed hand in hand with her parents, seemingly holding them together.

When Hillary Clinton first ran for the Senate, her 20-year-old daughter crisscrossed New York state by her side. Now, at 27, Chelsea Clinton is still clapping and beaming on her parents' behalf, accompanying them on trips, fundraising (she helped bring in more than $20-million for her father's foundation) and playing a more glamorous version of her lifelong role: model daughter.

"It's The Truman Show," said Jill Kargman, a friend of Chelsea Clinton, citing the movie about a character whose entire life is a reality television program.

But like Truman, who eventually breaks free, Clinton now has her own life: a hedge fund job, a serious boyfriend, a tight circle of friends, and a permanent place setting on the New York party circuit.

Lately, Clinton has been able to have her celebrity and control it, too, enjoying the perks but fewer of the drawbacks she used to suffer, like jokes about her looks and tabloid speculation. She retains a publicist, but mainly to fend off publicity; she and her parents turned down interview requests for this article, as they have for countless others on the subject.

Now Clinton must decide whether to surrender some of her privacy to help her mother, who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination. So far, Clinton is more a character than a presence in the campaign, which seeks to portray Sen. Clinton as a strong yet nurturing force, a friend to women and children and a symbol of progress from one generation to the next.

Voters hear stories about Chelsea Clinton's childhood Christmas ornaments, fondness for Goodnight Moon, even her crib. The campaign's Sopranos parody video included a joke about parallel parking that compared her to Meadow, that television family's loyal daughter.

Campaign officials would not say when - or even if - Clinton would appear on the trail. "Even though president and Sen. Clinton are public figures, their daughter is not," Howard Wolfson, the campaign spokesman, said in a statement. "While Chelsea Clinton has attended events for her mom and will be supporting her parents in their political and philanthropic endeavors, she will continue to focus on her own professional and personal interests as a private person."

Those familiar with the Clintons envision Chelsea Clinton as a strategic resource, not an ever-present voice. "She'll talk about what she knows about, meaning her mother," said Donna Shalala, the former Clinton cabinet member who chaperoned Chelsea Clinton's Olympics trip in 2000.

John A. Catsimatidis, a businessman and loyal Clinton supporter, who says he has seen Clinton at too many fundraisers to name, agreed. "She's a very talented girl, she's very smart," he said, "and people would rather see a member of a Clinton family at a fundraiser than a surrogate."

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