Estrich Rolls in to SF to Sell Clinton. And a Book.

Five years ago, Susan Estrich pooh-poohed any thought of Hillary Clinton running for the presidency, calling her a “polarizing? woman who had no chance.

Today, Estrich, a professor of law and political science at the University of Southern California Law School, is one of the New York senator’s biggest boosters, traveling the country to talk up Clinton as the Democrat’s last, best hope to win the 2008 national election.

Oh, and also to sell copies of Estrich’s new book, “The Case for Hillary Clinton.?

Estrich was doing both on Monday during a 35-minute speech, followed by a half-hour’s worth of questions, at San Francisco’s Commonwealth Club of California.

She told a friendly audience of about 50 people that she changed her mind about Clinton after deciding that the former first lady had stepped out of husband Bill’s big shadow and developed into a “grownup, mature woman? of moderate politics. In other words, not a far lefty who wouldn’t have a snowball’s chance of winning.

Estrich noted that before being elected to Congress by the voters of New York, Clinton’s approval ratings hovered at 49 percent, but now after a few years on the job have soared to 77 percent — and not only from liberal New York City, but also from the more conservative and rural parts of upstate New York. “The deck,? she said, “is stacked inside the Democratic Party on behalf of Hillary Clinton.?

And how’s that, you ask?

Well, Estrich believes the Democrats’ “flavor of the month? — former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner — is too far to Clinton’s right politically for Democratic voters and doesn’t have “any ideology and no position on the war? in Iraq.

John Kerry, the Democrats’ 2004 nominee, faces the electability issue, she said, while John Edwards, the last Democratic vice presidential candidate, “has yet to say what his positions are? on anything, while still apologizing for voting for the Iraq war.

“So,? Estrich said, “as my father would say, ‘Who’s the other horse in this race?’?

Estrich said Bill Clinton shouldn’t be kept out of the campaign — as Al Gore did in 2000 — and would be an invaluable asset to his wife because he knows how to raise money and woo voters. She even said the popular ex-president promised to be on his best behavior if Hillary ran for office.

And when did he tell her that? During a telephone call, Estrich said, when he caught her in traffic to complain about a sentence in her book — the one that said if Hillary sought the presidency, she should send Bill to the Middle East to keep him out of trouble.

— Mike McKee

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