WASHINGTON -- Looking past the presidential nomination fight, Democratic leaders are quietly fretting that having Hillary Clinton at the top of their 2008 ticket could hurt candidates at the bottom.
They say the senator from New York could jeopardize the party's standing with independent voters and give Republicans who otherwise might stay home on Election Day a reason to vote.
Democratic candidates, consultants, and party leaders point to internal polls that give Clinton strikingly high unfavorable ratings in places with key congressional and state races.
"Republicans are upset with their candidates but she will make up for that by essentially scaring folks to the polls," said Andy Arnold, the Democratic chairman of Greenville, S.C.
Aides insist that Clinton's negative ratings will drop as her candidacy gains a sense of inevitability.
Other Democrats hold out hope that Clinton can turn things around. "People have formed opinions of her," said US Representative Tim Mahoney, a freshman Democrat from Florida. "But I can and will tell you that when I see Hillary get out there with the public, she changes people's minds."
Army Lieutenant General Douglas Lute suggested last week in an interview with National Public Radio that a draft may relieve the frequent tours for US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan that have stressed the all-volunteer force.
Edwards, a former North Carolina senator, said Saturday that Lute's remarks show "the true danger of the administration's breathtaking failures in Iraq and around the world."
"Now, instead of ending this war and doing what is right for our troops, their families, and the nation, President Bush is floating the idea of a draft that would send more young Americans to Iraq."
State Senator Walter Boasso, a Democrat, has begun running an ad that paints Republican Bobby Jindal as a carbon copy of Bush as he vies with the US representative for the governor's seat.
"Some things just go together," Boasso says in the commercial. "Like red beans and rice. Gumbo and Tabasco. And, unfortunately for Louisiana, George W. Bush and Bobby Jindal."
The ad notes that Jindal has voted with Bush on Iraq 100 percent of the time, while Boasso favors bringing the troops, especially the National Guard, home from Iraq.