Simon Vozick-Levinson
April 16, 2007 AT 12:00 PM EDT

She’s talked around the topic for what feels like ages, but finally Senator Hillary Clinton has answered the question that’s on every voter’s mind as 2008 approaches. Yep, at long last, she’s told America exactly where she stands on the growing threat of Sanjaya Malakar. Well, sort of. According to the Associated Press, Sen. Clinton replied diplomatically when a call-in radio listener from the powerful state of New Hampshire asked her how Washington should handle the ponyhawked puzzler. “That’s the best question I’ve been asked in a long time,” she reportedly replied. “Well, you know, people can vote for whomever they want. That’s true in my election, and it’s true on American Idol.“A fair, measured stance, to be sure.

But let’s read between those lines a bit. Given the caller’s clear anti-Sanjaya convictions, Clinton’s response was remarkably restrained. Why didn’t she throw the radio audience some red meat by bashing the would-be pop star? A promise to retroactively strip Sanjaya’s name and likeness from all records of this season of Idol if elected could have made her poll ratings soar instantly. Sanjaya is far and away the easiest target in existence right now for anyone trying to score some easy chuckles. Her refusal to mock such an eminently mockable pop-culture phenomenon raises the distinct possibility that the next president of these United States might be — gasp! — a covert Fanjaya.

addCredit(“Hillary Clinton: Alex Wong/Getty Images; Sanjaya Malakar: Steve Granitz/”)

Or does it? Perhaps after his shockingly non-terrible performance of”Besame Mucho” on Latin night, Sanjaya hate is so two weeks ago. Inthat case, though, you’d think Hillary would have wanted to capitalizeon his bizarrely unstoppable buzz. Who knows — maybe a publicdeclaration of support for Sanjaya could have been just what she neededto grab the national news media’s attention and get this underfundedcampaign off the ground. (Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi savvilytook the pro-Sanjaya route last week.)

Either way, then, it seems like Clinton missed a golden opportunityhere. But the floodgates have been opened, and now, there’s no closingthem. Every candidate who wants to be taken seriously in the comingmonths simply must stake out a confident position on this criticalissue. How can Clinton’s rivals prove that they’re Strong on Sanjaya?Will they even want to risk alienating the guy’s sizeable base ofsupporters? Most importantly, does anyone in this race have a shot atsnagging the coveted Vote For The Worst endorsement?

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