Lazio proves he can hold own against Hillary
By By Bill Armistead
Fall is in the air and so is politics. One of the most interesting political campaigns this year, other than the presidential race, is the U.S. Senate race in New York to replace retiring Democrat Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan.
Up until just four months ago it was expected that the New York Senate race would be between First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. However, in May, Giuliani pulled out of the race because of health and marital problems. And within a flash he was replaced by 42 year-old U.S. Rep. Rick Lazio who has been in Congress only eight years.
Most people immediately said that Lazio would not be a match for Hillary. After all, she and her husband have been on the political stage (pun intended) for over 20 years. Even though this is her first time as a candidate, she has been in the middle of husband Bill's campaigns from the beginning.
So, she is no political novice.
Hillary, as she likes to be called, began her campaign for the senate 20 months ago. Since she had a 16 month head start on Lazio, and must have 100% name recognition among voters, one would expect her to be running way ahead of Lazio. But, they are in a virtual dead heat. Within one week of announcing his candidacy the little known Lazio pulled within 2 points of Hillary. The latest poll results indicate that they are still neck and neck, which tells me that New Yorkers just haven't caught on to the idea of Hillary taking residence in their state to become their U.S. Senator.
The Hillary campaign was hoping that the first debate between her and Lazio, which took place last week, would catapult her into the lead. But, so far that hasn't materialized. The debate seems to have proven two things: the Democrat's hoped-for "stature gap" between Hillary and Lazio was not evidenced; and it is going to be hard for the first lady to step away from the legacy her husband has left.
Hillary obviously knew she would have to answer some questions about her husband's oval office behavior, and her reaction to it, but she surely didn't expect what happened last week in the debate. The moderator of the debate, Tim Russert host of NBC's "Meet the Press", played a portion of an interview she had on the "Today" show in which the first lady denied her husband had an affair with Monica Lewinsky and blamed a "vast right-wing conspiracy" for the charges.
Russert asked her if she regretted "misleading the American people" and if she would "now apologize for branding people as part of a vast right-wing conspiracy." Hillary appeared shaken by the question. Seeming to grope momentarily for words, she replied that the scandal was a "very painful time for me, my family, and our country," and added, "Obviously I didn't mislead anyone; I didn't know the truth. Obviously there's a great deal of pain involved with that." Her answer was clearly an attempt to garner the sympathy vote.
The other highlight of debate was when Lazio sought to get Hillary to join him in signing a pledge to ban "soft" money (unregulated contributions from corporations, unions and individuals spent on behalf of a campaign). Lazio noted that he has not raised or spent soft money — something he said Hillary has done "by the bucket-load." Walking across the stage, he asked her to sign the pledge.
Hillary, of course, did not sign the pledge, but the interaction between her and Lazio was something to watch. After Lazio walked over to her, handed her the pledge and asked her to sign it, Hillary sarcastically replied, "You know, I admire that. That was a wonderful performance." At this point Lazio interrupted her and said, "Well, why don't you just sign it? I'm not asking you to admire it. I'm asking you to sign it."
I think Lazio is on to a legitimate issue here and with the way the President and First Lady are raising money for her campaign, it should be a crime. The day after the debate it was revealed that donors to Hillary's campaign were given overnight stays in the White House's Lincoln bedroom and at Camp David. A White House spokesman confirmed that supporters who have made campaign contributions have stayed at the White House, but he denied that it was in exchange for their money. If you believe that, I've got some swampland in Florida I'd like to sell you.
Meanwhile, within 24 hours of the debate, President Clinton hauled in some $350,000 for Hillary's campaign at an intimate dinner party held in the Washington, D.C., home of his old friend Vernon Jordan. Your will remember Jordan. He is Clinton's golfing buddy and sometimes lawyer who helped find Monica Lewinsky a job after it was learned that she was naughty in the Oval Office.
Stay tuned to this Senate race. It is just beginning to get heated up. I am sure that there will be much, much more to come in the weeks ahead.