Dan Janison Melville. N.Y. Tuesday January 26, 2010. Daniel Janison,

Dan Janison has been a reporter at Newsday since 1997.

Southampton Town Councilman Brad Bender says it would of course be fine with him if Bill and Hillary Clinton showed up Saturday at his $30-per-person annual breakfast fundraiser -- held, fittingly enough, in his rose garden.

Bender, a Democrat and a resident of Northampton hamlet, thought up the suggestion when asked this week if the Democratic presidential candidate should vacation in an East End community more closely identified with the hoi polloi than the 1 percent.

"She can come here and hang out with the blue-collar people any time," Bender said.

With optics and symbolism so potent in a big election, chatter has arisen about whether the Clintons -- who in past summers stayed in hugely expensive places in East Hampton and elsewhere -- would do so again this year.

After all, Hillary Clinton is among those who cite wide income disparity in America as a key problem. Maybe taking a modest but tasteful place in Mastic, Flanders or Riverhead would look better. Say, something a short drive to fancy beachfront-mansion fundraisers, but arm's length from rows of billionaire manses whose owners fund both major parties.

That could give candidate Clinton desired separation from the red-hot rental market that's pressuring year-round Hamptons residents of modest means to move elsewhere, as reporter Will James recently described in Newsday.

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Off Long Island, of course, the symbolic differences of staying a few miles either way on the East End may be lost. But for Clinton, a vacation in the right place could double as a listening tour -- even if New York, which she represented in the U.S. Senate, isn't widely expected to be in play next year.

Nick Merrill, a spokesman for the Clinton campaign, politely declined yesterday to discuss the former secretary of state's vacation policy.

Robert Zimmerman, a Democratic National Committee member from Great Neck who has a house in Southampton, was having none of this.

"The issue isn't whether you are part of the 1 percent. The issue is whether you are fighting for the 99 percent," Zimmerman said. "This topic is group therapy for cable news and political media; then there are people with real lives." He added, "The Republican Party's problem is that not only are they fighting for the 1 percent, they attack the rest."

State Republican chairman Ed Cox, son-in-law of the late President Richard M. Nixon, was raised in Westhampton Beach. He had a partisan shot of his own: "The Hamptons communities certainly appreciate the millions spent by Mrs. Clinton and her summer set, but it's the height of hypocrisy for her to cast herself as a populist while living off a government-derived fortune and running with the rich and famous."

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For generations the Bush family has encamped in Kennebunkport, Maine. Word spread last month that GOP presidential candidate Jeb Bush was having his own house built at the family compound there -- prompting similar chatter about symbolism and optics.

Billionaire presidential candidate Donald Trump could draw attention by spending time at Jones Beach -- where the failure of his famous catering-hall proposal has left the scenery relatively unspoiled.

For now, there is little if any gossip about where such underdog candidates as Bernie Sanders, Martin O'Malley, Rand Paul or Ted Cruz might stick their toes in the sand. That would change for anyone who starts winning primaries.