NEW YORK - First impressions sometimes create lasting images, and so it is with Chelsea Clinton.
For many, Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton's daughter is still a curly-haired 12-year-old with braces and a shy smile - the first "first kid" since Amy Carter to spend her formative years in the White House.
Chelsea Clinton now is a 27-year-old single woman working in the financial sector in New York City. With her mother's trailblazing quest to win the presidency in 2008, the nation could see Chelsea Clinton return to the White House in a very different role, as an occasional visitor or perhaps even a bride at a White House wedding.
Chelsea Clinton has kept a low profile since her mother joined the presidential field in January. She has yet to speak publicly about the prospect of becoming "first kid" a second time.
But those who know her describe an exceptionally bright and grounded young woman who will decide for herself what role to play in her mother's campaign.
"She's not a child living in the White House anymore, so it's entirely different this time," said Lisa Caputo, who was Hillary Clinton's press secretary in Bill Clinton's first term. "But Chelsea is such a poised young lady in her own right, if anyone has the maturity to deal with the situation, it's her."
Even so, the Clintons are mindful of their daughter's privacy and have been determined to protect her from the campaign fishbowl. Requests for interviews with Chelsea Clinton for this story were declined.
"She is an adult, so she gets to make those decisions for herself," Hillary Clinton said in an Associated Press interview in Iowa last weekend when asked what her daughter might do in the campaign.
Former President Clinton recently said the family was determined to let Chelsea live as normally as possible for much of the campaign.
"She has got her own life to live. She works. She does her own range of other activities," Clinton said in a CNN interview. "She cares a lot about politics and she wants her mom to win. But she has got a life to live and we don't want to interrupt that."
To be sure, Chelsea Clinton has not been absent totally from her mother's efforts. She recently joined her parents onstage at a campaign fund-raiser in Manhattan, but did not address the audience. Hillary Clinton often describes how being a mom has shaped her candidacy.
Advisers say Chelsea Clinton probably will step up appearances later in the campaign as she did in 2000, during the closing months of her mother's first Senate race in New York.
Neel Lattimore, who as an assistant to then-first lady Hillary Clinton helped shield Chelsea from the media during her teenage years, said Chelsea will decide for herself what level of privacy she can expect during the campaign.
"She'll merit protection based on her own actions," Lattimore said. "The wider you open the door, the more you put yourself in a situation where you lose the privacy you want. She really values her personal privacy, so that's why she can be with her mom and campaign with her mom but not speak if she chooses."
For now Chelsea is busy with her work at Avenue Capital, a $12 billion New York-based hedge fund run by Marc Lasry, a longtime Clinton donor. Avenue Capital employees have contributed more than $30,000 to Hillary Clinton's presidential bid so far, campaign finance records show.
Chelsea often is spotted around New York with her boyfriend, Marc Mezvinsky, an investment banker and the son of former Democratic Reps. Ed Mezvinsky of Iowa and Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky of Pennsylvania.
Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky have known each other since they were teenagers in Washington.
From John F. Kennedy's toddler son poking out from under his dad's Oval Office desk in the early 1960s to the camera-ready antics of John Edwards' youngsters in 2004, children have helped to soften and humanize their politically ambitious parents. But their roles have varied widely, especially during campaign season.
In 2000, Democrat Al Gore's 27-year-old daughter, Karenna, was a top adviser and campaign surrogate. John Kerry's daughters, Alexandra and Vanessa, campaigned actively for their father in 2004. But George W. Bush's twins, Jenna and Barbara, largely have avoided politics and did not campaign actively during their father's two successful presidential races.
Children's roles are shaping up very differently this time. Among Democrats, John Edwards' oldest daughter, Cate, a 25-year old Harvard Law student, has hit the trail for her father as she did in 2004. Barack Obama's two young daughters, ages 8 and 5, appeared at his campaign kickoff but have otherwise been shielded from the spotlight so far. On the Republican side, Mitt Romney's five adult sons are heavily involved in their father's efforts and are even publishing a joint campaign blog - http://fivebrothers.mittromney.com/ John McCain's seven children have campaigned sporadically; most were on hand for parts of his announcement tour last month. But former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani has acknowledged his estrangement from his children, 21-year old Andrew and 18-year old Caroline. When the Clintons first arrived in Washington in early 1993, they pleaded with reporters to leave Chelsea alone. The request was largely heeded through her high school years and later at Stanford University, where she graduated with a degree in history in 2001. As a graduate student in England, where she attended Oxford University from 2001-2003, Chelsea became a magnet for coverage by the British tabloids, who eagerly reported on her boyfriends, outfits and pub crawls. A particularly high-profile appearance in 2002, when a designer-clad Chelsea showed up with Madonna and Gwyneth Paltrow at a Versace fashion show in Paris, set the paparazzi into a feeding frenzy. Since then, the excitement has quieted down. While photos of Chelsea pop up from time to time in New York gossip columns, she largely has kept a low-key private life. In a recent Newsweek essay on the pitfalls facing potential "first kids," Ronald Reagan's daughter Patti - who was something of a hellraiser during her father's White House years - had nothing but praise for how Chelsea has conducted herself thus far. "Somehow she understood the value of silence, the grace of staying just out of reach, even at a young age," Davis wrote. "If Hillary gets elected, Chelsea will be the first First Daughter to do it all over again. And you know what? She'll be fine." --- On the Net: White House Historical Association background on children in the White House: http://tinyurl.com/3ctswk AP-CS-05-12-07 1210EDT
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