"She looks like a winner," said Collins, sitting in his high-rise office with sweeping views of the city. "She's run a good campaign, very consistent, no mistakes."
But make no mistake about it: Collins is just one in a vast army of professional "Hillary haters" who are banking on Clinton becoming the Democratic nominee. Like the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth in the 2004 election who denigrated John Kerry's military service in Vietnam, Collins and others are searching for just the thing that will crystallize the way voters think and feel about her.
And not in a good way.
Armed with new technologies and fueled by animus, they are bent on preventing "four more years" of Clintonism. Every old charge, it seems, is being repackaged and sold as new. Every rumor is given a new, blog-stoked currency.
The rise of the Internet has meant that more people are getting their message out without the expense of paper, postage or manpower. Anyone with a computer can weigh in on the political debate and alter a candidate's course, and Clinton opponents have started early.
With his affable demeanor and sixth-generation Texas twang, Collins, 60, is the force behind StopHerNow.com, a humorous and snarky Web site, as well as an independent expenditure group dedicated to stopping Clinton's march to the White House.
His efforts have included flying a StopHerNow.com banner over the site of the South Carolina Democratic debate, as well as a cartoon called "The Hillary Show," a "Jetsons"-like satire that portrays Clinton as a mean and unforgiving talk show host.
"This is not personal," said Collins, a Republican who has donated money to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. "It's about her policies. We think they would be wrong for the country."
A magnet for criticism
Not every Democratic presidential candidate, however, draws such venomous opposition. Ever since she uttered those famous words about staying home, baking cookies and holding teas rather than fulfilling her professional goals, Clinton has been a magnet for passionate criticism.
This fall, Citizens United, a conservative organization that claims half a million members, will release a documentary film about the life and times of Hillary Clinton. It's being made with the help of Dick Morris, the fired former adviser to Bill Clinton who has turned criticizing both Clintons into a crusade.
"I think once people see this film, I don't know how she would be able to get their vote," said David Bossie, the group's chairman and president, who worked as the chief investigator for the House committee investigating the Clinton-era Whitewater scandals before he was fired too.
Other "Hillary haters" have less money but no less wrath for the senator from New York.
Robert Morrow, a self-employed securities trader who works from home in Austin, describes himself as one of the nation's premier experts on Hillary and Bill Clinton. He said he has bought every book ever written about the Clintons, and he draws on them for the reams of information he e-mails to journalists and political activists detailing allegations of rape, sexual assault and physical violence, which Clinton's campaign dismisses as baseless. "You've got to believe there's going to be a thousand people like me in the general election exposing the Clintons' track record of violating people and criminality," said Morrow, who calls the former First Couple "sociopaths and thugs."
Clinton says she knows the attacks will come and that she's uniquely qualified in knowing how to fight back.
"I've been through it and I understand their tactics," Clinton told voters last week at a house party in Concord, N.H. "And I have been subjected to them for 15 years and I have survived them. And there is something to be said for that."
'Unhinged' over the Clintons
Some Democratic strategists say the political right's obsession with both Clintons is far more intense than it ever was toward Kerry, the Democratic nominee in 2004, or Michael Dukakis, the candidate in 1988.
"There's clearly a sliver of the right wing in the country that's unhinged over both of the Clintons. Their hatred is simply pathological," said Jim Jordan, who is advising Sen. Christopher Dodd's presidential bid. "I'm sure some of these kooks look back at the Clinton White House as the good ol' days -- they were energized and relevant then."
What is unclear is whether voters are numb to the charges that Clinton's legion of detractors offer, or whether those charges will help reinforce negative feelings.
Howard Wolfson, Clinton's communications director, argues that voters have almost become immune. "For most Americans, not only has the page turned, but the book is closed on that kind of thing," he said.
John Pitney Jr., a political science professor at Claremont McKenna College, believes anti-Hillary Clinton groups will face a steep battle undermining Clinton the same way they harmed Kerry.
"If there's one thing Hillary Clinton knows about politics, it's that she has some enemies," Pitney said. "You're not going to catch her off guard. The question is whether they can persuade anybody beyond their Republican base."
Even Paul Weyrich, the conservative activist, wonders whether the attacks will work.
"Assuming she gets the nomination, the question for the general election is: Do these people contribute to the dialogue or do they turn people off," he said. "I haven't made up my mind yet."
Turning people off is exactly what Collins is trying to avoid with his StopHerNow.com efforts. "What we're trying to do with our site is define Hillary with humor," he said.
For example, Collins has three rules to guide the writing on his site: Chelsea Clinton is off-limits; no gay-bashing allowed; and Bill Clinton's womanizing is OK, but no naming names.
He says he believes the key to undoing Clinton's candidacy lies with exposing her true character. For example, his Web site has sharply criticized Clinton for not releasing documents relating to her time as first lady.
"She's hiding something. This is classic Clinton sleaze," said Collins, who describes himself as a mainstream Republican and says he has Democratic friends who don't like her either. "This sort of thing is the defining character issue that will cause her to lose."
He admires the work of a renegade staffer for Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) who spoofed an Apple Computer television ad by depicting Clinton as an Orwellian, dictatorial figure speaking in a monotone to a hall full of robotic humans. When a female athlete tosses a hammer at the screen, destroying Clinton's image, this line appears: "On Jan. 14th, the Democratic primary will begin. And you will see why 2008 isn't going to be like '1984.'"
The ad was watched more than a million times on YouTube. And that's what Collins is hoping to replicate.
"The goal is to do something that everybody will watch," he said.
Currently, his site gets about 3,000 hits a day, and his overall budget for the cycle could reach as high as $4 million. He has spent about $400,000 so far -- most of that his own money -- building StopHerNow.com and hiring staff, including actors to do the voice-overs for "The Hillary Show" cartoons.
The architect of StopHerNow
Those cartoons are frequently conceived by Arthur Finkelstein, the reclusive Republican political consultant who became famous for constantly defining Democrats as liberals. He originally started StopHerNow.com and still calls the animator to dictate ideas for new scripts. Collins calls him "an old friend" and says Finkelstein advises him on several things, including Clinton.
A site managing editor based in Ohio, Kevin Holtsberry, is working to beef up the content, tapping into his relationships with conservative bloggers. He said they are trying to get the truth out about Clinton.
"She's going to try to redefine herself as a nice, charming, friendly, centrist-type person, competent, the kind of person who can get things done," he said. "Our job is to bring out the past and her real history."
Collins heads two foundations, both of which give away money, primarily for historic preservation and education efforts. One of the foundations has given about $4 million toward private school vouchers.
But politics is his passion, and he's proud that his mother was the first woman to serve on the Dallas City Council and that his uncle was once a member of Congress. His grandfather, he said, was a "kingmaker" when it came to Texas politics, and his great-grandfather was once a member of the state Senate.
His hoped-for contribution? Stopping Clinton.
- - -
The anti-Clinton cadre
Several individuals and groups are organized in vocal opposition to Sen. Hillary Clinton's presidential aspirations, including:
*StopHerNow.com: This is both a Web site and an independent expenditure group dedicated to "rescuing America from the radical ideas of Hillary Clinton." It includes cartoons called "The Hillary Show," a "Jetsons"-like satire that portrays Clinton as a mean talk show host. The group is run and funded by Richard Collins in Dallas. Republican consultant Arthur Finkelstein founded the site and now is an adviser.
*Citizens United: This conservative organization is releasing a film this fall about Clinton that "aims to expose the truth about her conflicts in the past and her liberal plot for the future." The chairman and president is David Bossie, who was the chief investigator for the House committee looking into the Clinton-era Whitewater scandal before he was fired. Dick Morris, the Clintons' fired former consultant, is involved in the film.
*Robert Morrow: A self-employed securities trader who works from home in Austin, Texas, he describes himself as one of the nation's premier experts on Hillary and Bill Clinton. Morrow regularly e-mails journalists and political activists with allegations of criminal activity by the couple.
*HillCAP, The Hillary Clinton Accountability Project: This project is run by the United States Justice Foundation, a conservative legal group representing Peter Paul, who has filed a civil lawsuit against Hillary and Bill Clinton accusing them of fraud. Doug Cogan, a commercial real estate broker in Upland, Calif., serves as a researcher for Paul, a former Clinton fundraiser. (Published in the Chicagoland Early Edition)