Clinton versus Lazio (posted May 21, 2000)

The surprise announcement of New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani that he is dropping out of the Senate race and entry of Republican Congressman Ric Lazio fundamentally changes the dynamics of the race against First Lady Hilary Clinton. Prior to Giuliani's exit, the race pitted a contentious Republican mayor with high negatives against a Democratic opponent who also polarized the electorate. The fact that each candidate was trying to position themselves in the middle meant that issue differences between the two were obscured and the race would center on personality characteristics.

Now, Lazio's decision to enter the race and his strong support by the Republican establishment places ideology square into the campaign. In his announcement speech, Lazio emphasized his conservative credentials and unwillingness to allow Mrs. Clinton to portray herself as a New Democrat as opposed to an old-fashioned liberal, which he claims she is. This strategic parry guarantees that Lazio will seek to point out differences with the First Lady on the issues as well as continuing to point out that she is not a real New Yorker.

The major advantage Mrs. Clinton has now is that her campaign organization and fundraising are up and running, while Lazio is several months behind. Since he is not very well-known statewide, look in the next few weeks for Mrs. Clinton and her supporters to attempt to pin negatives on the Congressman. Just as he is saying she is a political extremist (to the left), Democrats will seek to tie Lazio to the Gingrich wing of the party. Although Lazio is pro-choice on abortion, he already has noted he opposes partial birth abortions. This move is important because it will allow him to capture the nomination not just of the GOP but the Conservative party, something that had alluded Mayor Giuliani. Early polls show Clinton with a lead of 49 to 31 over Lazio, but much of this lead is based on her superior name identification. Look for him to move up fast in the polls as voters become familiar with him. Still will be the premier Senate race in the country.