NEW YORK – Sen. Hillary Clinton refused to squelch talk Thursday about whether she has her eyes on the White House after John Kerry’s loss made her the Democrats’ insta-front-runner for 2008.

“Oh, I’m having the best time being the senator from New York,” was all Clinton would say in her first appearance since Election Day when asked by reporters if she would be the new standard-bearer for the Democratic Party.

Clinton spoke hours after her colleague, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. – who is often overshadowed by the former first lady – called her the front-runner for ‘08.

She said Thursday she was “disappointed” by the loss.

“I worked hard for Sen. Kerry,” said Clinton, who visited several states for Kerry in the final week, although Team Kerry had been reluctant to tap her earlier because of her spotlight-stealing star power.

“He ran a strong campaign,” she said at Polytechnic University in Brooklyn, where she arrived more than an hour late to introduce a lecture there.

“He fell a little short, but it was a tremendous effort. I’m looking forward to having him back in the Senate, and we’ll continue to work together,” she said, adding that she was “pleased” that Bush said he plans to reach out to Democrats.

“In a second term I would hope that the president and his team would be more willing to listen to people with different ideas and different points of view, and to forge some common ground,” she said.

President Bush’s win had Democrats scrambling to fix their damaged party. It also had political watchers gearing up for a potential rematch between Clinton and Rudy Giuliani.

Giuliani ran against Clinton briefly for Senate in 2000, but he dropped out after being diagnosed with prostate cancer. But since Sept. 11, 2001, made him a national star, he’s considered by many the best man to beat her in 2008.

Giuliani, whose name has surfaced as a potential candidate for U.S. attorney general in Bush’s next term, made no public appearances Thursday. His spokeswoman said he’s happy with the job he has running his consulting firm.

Clinton, one of her party’s biggest stars, is up for re-election in 2006, and Republicans have made unseating her a priority, in part to cripple any potential presidential run by her.

That has sparked speculation that she could be challenged by Gov. George Pataki, or even Giuliani.

(c) 2004, New York Daily News.

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Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

AP-NY-11-04-04 2212EST

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