NEW YORK (AP) – For months, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton has sidestepped questions about whether she would run for the White House by saying she was totally focused on her re-election. She no longer has that excuse.

Fresh off a victory that saw her carry 59 of New York’s 62 counties, including wide swaths of the more conservative upstate region, Clinton would appear well-positioned for that run for the White House that many think she will make.

But will she do it?

“All I’m doing is thinking about going back to work next week in Washington,” she said. “I’m going to relish this victory.”

Independent pollster Lee Miringoff said that while Clinton’s latest victory was impressive, it should be kept in perspective.

“What you are talking about is a very blue state where she was able to run up the score against weak opposition,” said Miringoff, head of Marist College’s Institute for Public Opinion.

“What she has to do now is convince Democrats, who got a taste on Tuesday of what it’s like to win, that she can do that nationally.”

And waiting out there for her are possible challenges on the Democratic side from the likes of John Edwards and Barack Obama, and on the Republican side from John McCain and Rudy Giuliani. None of them are a John Spencer.

There is no rush for Clinton, said Miringoff.

“You have to decide early if you’re unknown and lack money,” he said. Neither is a problem for Clinton, who raised more than $40 million for her re-election and has millions left over that could be converted to a presidential campaign. And, she has already assembled a campaign team that has vast experience on the presidential campaign front.

Clinton seemed to be fanning the 2008 electoral flames a bit with her victory speech Tuesday night as she crowed about Democratic victories.

While Clinton’s re-election win, with 67 percent of the vote, demonstrated strength all across New York, the campaign also exposed an undercurrent among some of her most loyal followers – a feeling she may not be able to win the presidency and perhaps shouldn’t try.

“Looked at by itself as a candidacy, I would say I’m not terribly enthusiastic about it,” said Janet Pleninger, a retired social worker and Clinton fan who had driven from her home in the Rochester suburbs to nearby Palmyra in late August to catch a campaign stop.

“Unfortunately, not through any fault of her own, she’s a divisive personality.”

But Pleninger’s daughter-in-law, nurse practitioner Kathy Pleninger of Palmyra, said she was in favor of having Clinton run for president.

“How could you have a candidate any more qualified than she is?” the younger woman asked of the Yale Law-educated former first lady.

But when asked if Clinton could win the White House, she answered: “Hard to say. Probably not. People are so passionate about her either one way or the other.”

The views of the Pleninger women, both Democrats, are not unique among Clinton fans.

One-third of Democratic voters in New York don’t want her to run for president in 2008 and 54 percent said it was not likely that she could win such a race, a Marist poll found in July. An October poll from Marist found that nationally, 55 percent of Democrats said it was unlikely she could win the White House.

Even among the overwhelmingly supportive audience Tuesday, one in five of Clinton’s votes came from someone who felt she would not make a good president, according to exit polling conducted for The Associated Press and the television networks.

Democratic strategist Chris Lehane said that while he thinks Clinton will decide to run, “I don’t think it is a foregone conclusion and would not be at all surprised if she decided to focus on becoming a giant in the Senate.”

“She is very smart and will look at the race very analytically and run only if she believes that objectively she has a good chance of winning, and I mean winning the whole thing,” Lehane added.

Donna Brazile, another Democratic strategist and Clinton fan, said earlier this year during a forum at Siena College near Albany that the senator faces another potential hurdle if she runs for the White House – the fact that by the end of 2008 a Bush or a Clinton will have been in the White House for 20 years. Will American voters want to continue that two-family run? Brazile said she is not sure.

AP-ES-11-08-06 1239EST

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