* Clinton's surging popularity raises questions on future
* Bill Clinton to carry family flag at Democratic convention
* Hillary Clinton to leave Obama administration in January
By Andrew Quinn
WASHINGTON, Aug 28 As delegates gather next week
for the Democratic National Convention, they will look in vain
for one of the party's biggest stars.
Where in the world is Hillary Clinton?
The 2008 Democratic presidential candidate, frequently rated
the most popular member of President Barack Obama's cabinet,
will be half a world away from the North Carolina convention
center when Democrats gather Sept. 4-6 to nominate Obama for a
Clinton's head-spinning itinerary for that week, which will
take her from the South Pacific to Asia to Russia's eastern port
city of Vladivostok, is business as usual for the U.S. secretary
of state, who has broken numerous travel records since taking
the job in 2009.
Through it all, Clinton has studiously adhered to the rule
that America's top diplomat must remain above the partisan fray.
When asked touchy domestic political questions, Clinton's usual
response is a wry, silent smile.
So it was no surprise when her staff confirmed she would
skip the Democratic convention in Charlotte, the first she has
missed since 1968.
Not that the event will be Clinton-free. Former President
Bill Clinton will play a central role, giving the speech on
Sept. 5 that will formally place Obama on top of the party's
ticket, and the former president has already hit the airwaves in
advertisements promoting Obama's candidacy.
The Clintons' daughter, Chelsea, is attending both the
Republican and Democratic conventions, according to the William
J. Clinton Foundation.
But Hillary Clinton -- if she can find the time -- will,
like most Americans, watch the proceedings on TV.
"As secretary of state, she is no longer engaged in retail
politics, but she remains a keen observer," said P.J. Crowley, a
former Clinton White House staffer and State Department
"I'm pretty sure she'll be closely monitoring what happens
there. She has good sources, one in particular, who will be in a
good position to tell her what happened."
"UNREAL AND UNSETTLING"
Hillary Clinton's aides, who dutifully describe her as fully
focused on her international portfolio, declined to discuss her
feelings about missing the convention.
Still, watching from the sidelines will be a change for
Clinton, who attended her first convention -- a Republican one
-- as a junior aide in 1968 and reported in her book "Living
History" that she found the experience "unreal and unsettling."
After meeting Frank Sinatra and sharing an elevator with
John Wayne at the Republican conclave in Miami, Clinton went as
an observer to the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago,
dodging police charges against protesters and finding her own
calling as an activist.
Clinton remained a fixture at Democratic conventions for the
next four decades, dancing on stage in New York in 1992 after
Bill Clinton was first nominated for president and becoming the
first U.S. first lady to deliver a televised speech to delegates
in Chicago in 1996.
Clinton went on to become a U.S. senator from New York and
then a presidential candidate in her own right in 2008.
The largely nonpartisan Hillary of today is a far cry from
the politician who questioned candidate Obama's national
security credentials and, in the previous decade, deemed her
husband's Republican critics part of "a vast right-wing
After the hard-fought 2008 primary campaign, she used the
Democratic convention in Denver to rally the party behind her
"Barack Obama is my candidate. And he must be our
president," Clinton said.
MISSING STAR POWER?
Clinton has remained Obama's loyal lieutenant, although she
has also firmly maintained that she will step down from her
current job at the end of his present term early next year to
take a rest.
Rumors that she might want to swap jobs with Vice President
Joe Biden -- or start planning a second run for the presidency
in 2016 -- are routinely shrugged off with the same good-natured
Hank Sheinkopf, a veteran Democratic consultant based in New
York, said Clinton's no-show at Charlotte could put to rest
daydreams among some Clinton loyalists that she might yet be
coaxed back into this year's electoral contest as a stand-in for
"Some will wish she were there, but it puts an end to any
speculation that there might be a switch on the ticket,"
Other analysts say Bill is the right Clinton to step into
the spotlight at this particular moment.
"She has made the right decision, which is not to in any way
explicitly politicize herself at a time when we are facing
multiple international crises," said Doug Schoen, a Democratic
pollster who played an important role in Bill Clinton's 1996
"And let's not forget: Bill Clinton is the most popular man
in America right now. I think that says it all."
Still, few political observers believe Hillary Clinton's
convention career is over for good. As one of the Democratic
Party's most influential and best-networked mainstays, she will
likely remain an important voice no matter which candidate wins
this year's election.
"I would be surprised if she was not at the next Democratic
convention, either as a former first lady, former secretary of
state, or as a candidate herself," said Lee Miringoff, director
of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion at Marist College in
Poughkeepsie, New York.
"I bet she has already cleared her calendar."