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Game change? McCaskill endorses a Hillary Clinton run for president in 2016

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 1, 2013 - U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill – who once had a rocky political relationship with Bill and Hillary Clinton – heaped praise on Hillary Clinton on Friday and said she would be “working my heart out” for her campaign if Hillary runs for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.

“I know that Hillary will succeed in whatever comes next for her – and if her future plans include seeking the presidency, which I hope they do, then I look forward to being on her team and working my heart out to see her elected,” McCaskill said in the statement.

“Hillary has earned the respect and admiration of people in every nation across the globe. Americans are rightfully proud of her leadership through volatile situations abroad, and her lifetime of tremendous service to this country.”

McCaskill's early support for a 2016 presidential bid by Hillary Clinton – who has played down reports that she might consider another White House run – appears to signal significant movement, on McCaskill's part, from her stance on the Clintons in the years between 2005 and 2008.

Back in 2005, McCaskill had signaled to Democratic allies that she feared a presidential bid by then Sen. Hillary Clinton in 2008 might hurt McCaskill’s own chances if she ran for Missouri governor that year. When "The New Yorker" reported that observation, “Hillaryland was not amused,” the authors of “Game Change” wrote later.

Instead of running for governor, McCaskill opted to run for the U.S. Senate in 2006 against GOP incumbent Sen. Jim Talent. Former President Bill Clinton showed up at a fundraising event for McCaskill in St. Louis, and Hillary Clinton had committed to follow suit with a fundraiser in New York a few weeks before the election.

But days before that scheduled fundraiser, McCaskill – asked during an appearance on “Meet the Press” if Bill Clinton had been a great president – told host Tim Russert that she did think so, but she had some problems with his “personal issues.” She added: “I think he's been a great leader, but I don't want my daughter near him.”

According to a detailed account n “Game Change,” Hillary Clinton canceled the fundraiser as soon as she learned of McCaskill’s comment.

McCaskill wrote letters of apology to the Clintons and won election to the Senate. But the strained relations continued over the next year, when McCaskill became the first female senator to endorse then-Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., in his presidential race.

With McCaskill serving as one of his major campaign surrogates, Obama went on to defeat Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination in 2008 and win the presidency that November.

What has happened over the last five years to change McCaskill’s mind? The senator was not available to comment on Friday, but she did support Hillary Clinton’s nomination for secretary of State and has talked with her and worked on several issues during Clinton’s tenure in that office.

With Obama serving his final term in the White House, he has heaped praise on his former rival Clinton in recent weeks.

And with McCaskill gaining more national prominence as a result of her convincing reelection victory over former U.S. Rep. Todd Akin, she may be laying some groundwork for her own future.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.