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Presidential Politics On a First-Name Basis?

For a lot of Americans, there doesn't seem to be much of a middle ground when it comes to Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton. They love her or loathe her.

But what has been especially fascinating is that fans and foes alike feel perfectly comfortable calling her by her first name alone. She's simply "Hillary." You don't very often hear people referring to the other Republican and Democratic candidates as "Fred" or "John" or "Barack." But time and again, the former first lady and two-term senator from New York is just "Hillary."

Republican Mike Huckabee said recently that "when Hillary's name is mentioned" — he said "Hillary," not Senator Clinton or "Mrs. Clinton" or even "Hillary Clinton" — the room "gets louder than an Aerosmith concert." Fellow Republican Mitt Romney speaks of "Hillary's House of Horrors." Rather than taking offense, Mrs. Clinton's own campaign is running "Hillary" ads. Its official website is called "Hillary for President," and it invites its visitors to join "Team Hillary."

Do people feel free to use this first-name informality because she's a woman? Is it to distinguish her from her husband Bill, the former president? Political pundit Howard Fineman, a Newsweek magazine columnist, tells VOA that, like TV host Oprah Winfrey and basketball legend Michael Jordan, the former first lady has been in the spotlight for so long — defending her husband and sticking with him through rocky times in their marriage, then serving as a high-profile U.S. senator — that she has reached one-name status: It's "Oprah," "Michael," and "Hillary."

Does this help her or hurt her? Does it cheapen her status, make her seem common, knock her down a peg? Or does it humanize her and endear her to voters? Those who dislike her think the name "Hillary," all by itself, is a lightning rod for pent-up dislike for both the Clintons. But supporters believe the name "Hillary" sets her apart from the usual pack of male opponents.

Mrs. Clinton could become the first female U.S. president or fall flat and fail to win the Democratic nomination or the election. Either way, Americans will be talking for months to come about "Hillary."