Washington: Hillary Clinton has tried to steer clear of partisan fights while considering a second bid for the Oval Office.
Karl Rove just changed that. The mastermind behind George W. Bush's two presidential victories drew Clinton back into hand-to-hand political combat by raising a question about her health.
''Thirty days in the hospital? And when she reappears, she's wearing glasses that are only for people who have traumatic brain injury?'' Rove said, referring to Clinton's 2012 fall, concussion and subsequent diagnosis of a blood clot, according to a New York Post report. ''We need to know what's up with that.''
Clinton's camp didn't hesitate to fire back. ''Karl Rove has deceived the country for years, but there are no words for this level of lying,'' Clinton spokesman Nick Merrill, a former State Department official, said in a statement. ''She is 100 per cent,'' Merrill added. ''Period.''
Since Clinton resigned from the State Department in February 2013, her aides have declined to respond to most Republican attacks, preferring not to engage in campaign-style rapid response for a boss who insists she hasn't made up her mind about whether to run.
Two prospective presidential Republican rivals have taken shots at her. Florida Senator Marco Rubio gave her an ''F'' as secretary of state. Kentucky Senator Rand Paul raised the spectre of Monica Lewinsky. And just this week, Rush Limbaugh said she didn't designate Boko Haram, the group that kidnapped more than 200 Nigerian schoolgirls, as a terrorist organisation because many of the group's members are black. None of it was enough to get a real rise out of Clinton.
The difference between Rove's comments and the others, said one Democratic strategist who does not work for Clinton, is that health problems could disqualify a presidential candidate in the minds of voters.
For that reason, Clinton had to respond quickly and forcefully about her health, said the strategist, who asked not to be identified talking about a potential political vulnerability of a possible Democratic presidential candidate.
Rove's comments were widely reported as suggesting Clinton had suffered brain damage, an interpretation Rove rejected in an interview on FOX News on Tuesday. ''I didn't say she had brain damage. She had a serious health episode,'' Rove said, adding that he thinks Clinton will have to answer questions about her health if she runs.
While Clinton has appeared regularly at public and private events in the past year without any obvious impediment, a presidential candidacy probably would require her to release medical records.
Rove, who co-founded the Republican super-political action committee American Crossroads, isn't the first Republican to raise the question of Clinton's physical fitness for office. Others, including Senator Rubio and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, have suggested that Clinton, 66, is too old.
Rove's was the most pointed question about whether she's physically prepared for the office from a prominent party leader. It represents a reversal from the days shortly after her fall when former United Nations Ambassador John Bolton accused Clinton of faking a ''diplomatic illness'' to avoid hearings on Capitol Hill on Benghazi. Clinton later testified before the House and Senate foreign affairs committees.
Paul Begala, a top adviser to Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign, said it was the right move for Clinton to respond and that it fits with her general nature, even if she learnt to ''pick and choose'' her spots as secretary of state. ''She doesn't believe in letting attacks go unanswered,'' he said.
CME Group Inc. chairman and president Terrence Duffy, a donor to Bush in 2000 and Clinton in 2008, had a simple reaction to the meaning of Rove's remarks for the 2016 election: ''Karl is starting early,'' he said.