|CLINTON VS. LAZIO|
October 19, 2000
First Lady Hillary Clinton and U.S. Rep. Rick Lazio are battling for New York's Senate seat in one of the nation's most closely watched races. Kwame Holman reports on the contest.
KWAME HOLMAN: For New York politicians, there's no more appealing exposure than a march up Fifth Avenue in the Columbus Day parade, and that applies even to the two candidates running in the most chronicled US Senate race of the year.
CROWD SHOUTING: Hil-lar-y!
KWAME HOLMAN: There was the Democrat, First Lady Hillary Clinton. And the Republican, four-term Congressman Rick Lazio of suburban Long Island.
|A tight race|
With the election less than three weeks away, polls show Mrs. Clinton with a slight lead over Lazio in this largely Democratic state. And much of her support is in New York City. Here minorities, labor unions, and liberal voters predominate, forming a natural base for Hillary Clinton. Some polls show her garnering nearly 70 percent of the city vote.
SONNY SUBANCE: She is a good woman, and she deserves to be a Senator in New York. I think she will do a good job.
VIVIAN GONZALEZ: She has a great command on the issues. I think she's a people person; she's for the masses, and I think she has more character than her opponent.
KWAME HOLMAN: But beyond the confines of New York City, many voters take a different view of Mrs. Clinton. Nora Ammarati is from the Long Island suburb of Minneola.
NORA AMMARATI: And I think that to be able to deal with the problems in New York, you need to be a resident of New York. I don't think coming here for a couple of months before makes you qualified to represent New York in the Senate.
KWAME HOLMAN: New York City, with its 7 million residents, accounts for about 31 percent of the statewide vote. Upstate New York makes up 45 percent, and the remaining 24 percent comes from New York City's suburbs.
The largest is Long Island. Generally affluent and predominantly white, it is Lazio's political base. At the Long Island fair in old Bethpage, school administrator Morty Kugao told us he was solidly behind the area's native son.
MORTY KUGAO: I know what Lazio has been able to do, and I think, you know, he has got his roots here. And hopefully, when you live here all your life and you bring up your kids here and it's the place where you went to high school and you did all your work here, it's almost like you have a personal stake in it. I don't know what her stake is. She's a newcomer; it's like, not tried or true.
KWAME HOLMAN: But a new poll shows Mrs. Clinton has made big gains in places like Long Island, drawing nearly even with Lazio among suburban voters. The views of Diana Kraus and her neighbor Kelly Anne Guli illustrate the split.
KELLY ANNE GULI: Hillary, she doesn't seem... I don't know, just moving to New York just to get into the Senate thing is not right to me. It's fake, and I don't care for that. I think she wants the power, the title. I don't she really cares about anything else.
DIANA KRAUS: I saw they walked in the Columbus Day parade and they got to one section where they booed her. That takes a lot of guts to walk through a booing crowd. And sometimes you're not only being booed for who you are, but what your husband has done, and so I kind of give her some credit on that.
KWAME HOLMAN: Ericka Verderber, a secondary school teacher, agrees with Diana Kraus.
ERICKA VERDEBER: I think if people don't like her, I really think it's because they don't... they don't agree with certain decisions she's made in the past. You know, and I think that's what a lot of people are hung up on.
|The Clinton campaign|
KWAME HOLMAN: Former state Democratic chairman Joe Crangle has supported Pat Moynihan, the retiring New York Senator, and dozens of others over a lifetime in politics. In 1964, it was Robert Kennedy's successful New York Senate campaign.
KWAME HOLMAN: Another famous democrat running-- not from New York,
JOE CRANGLE: But yeah... But he was very much a New Yorker, that's for sure. Good fighter; he had a lot of zip in him.
KWAME HOLMAN: Crangle says Hillary Clinton also has some built-in advantages.
JOE CRANGLE: There are more female voters than there are male voters, and I also think there is also a good turnout. And if she's able to pull that vote away from the suburban Republican women on these kinds of issues, then it could almost be a landslide for her in New York State.
KWAME HOLMAN: Both campaigns, however, believe the election could turn on the vote in the towns and cities scattered across upstate New York. Even though this is predominantly Republican territory, Clinton campaign manager Bill De Blasio says his candidate is doing well here.
BILL DE BLASIO: The public polls often show a neck-and-neck race upstate, which is really unusual for a Democrat to have that kind of standing in a traditionally Republican area.
KWAME HOLMAN: Fifteen months ago, Mrs. Clinton kicked off her campaign with what she called a listening tour, traveling around the state in which she never had lived. She now has visited all 62 counties and spent an estimated 100 campaign days in upstate New York.
HILLARY CLINTON: What good is the promise of quality care for two million seniors in New York who don't have a prescription drug benefit? Here we are with record surpluses and economic growth. What better time than now to honor our obligations to older Americans and make sure that their ability to buy critical medication is never determined by the size of their savings accounts or retirement checks.
KWAME HOLMAN: De Blasio says Mrs. Clinton is winning over New Yorkers who once were reluctant to support her.
BILL DE BLASIO: A lot of voters have felt more and more comfortable with Hillary's stances, and they've also come to realize what a hard worker she is and the kind of effort she puts in every day.
|Lazio plays catch-up|
KWAME HOLMAN: Congressman Rick Lazio has been working hard upstate as well.
SPOKESMAN: Congressman Rick Lazio!
KWAME HOLMAN: Like many New York Republicans, Lazio is a moderate, agreeing with Mrs. Clinton on issues such as abortion rights and more federal money to improve education. At a new high-tech high school outside Buffalo, Lazio pitched his education plan to students and, by way of the news media, to upstate voters.
REP. RICK LAZIO: I want 95 cents out of every federal dollar to get into the classroom. I think that money ought to be spent for more teachers, for new facilities like this, or more laptops, and not get ripped off or diverted to Washington, DC, or Albany for another big bureaucracy.
KWAME HOLMAN: But the Lazio campaign admits it's been playing catch-up in upstate New York and during the campaign in general. Lazio only entered the race in May after the Republican Party's first choice -- New York City Mayor Rudy Guiliani -- dropped out. Lazio spent most of the summer raising money, at the expense of campaigning, in order to compete with Mrs. Clinton's well-funded campaign.
And he's endured a few missteps. Some voters say Lazio was overly aggressive, when during their first debate, he walked over to Mrs. Clinton and challenged her to sign a no-soft money campaign pledge.
REP. RICK LAZIO: Well, it's right here. It's right here.
HILLARY CLINTON: When you give me
REP. RICK LAZIO: Sign it right now.
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: Well, we'll shake on this, Rick.
REP. RICK LAZIO: No, I want your signature, because I think that everybody wants to see you signing something that you said you were for.
KWAME HOLMAN: And just yesterday, Lazio returned to an early theme of his campaign: questioning Mrs. Clinton's integrity. He did so following the release of Independent Counsel Robert Ray's report which concluded Mrs. Clinton gave factually false testimony in denying her role in the firing of seven White House Travel Office employees, even though Ray said months ago, he had insufficient evidence to prosecute Mrs. Clinton.
REP. RICK LAZIO: We believe integrity needs to be restored to our public servants. That we stand together and believe the rule of law applies to all of us and not just to some of us.
KWAME HOLMAN: Bob Davis is a Lazio advisor and chairman of the Republican Party in Erie County, which takes in Buffalo. He says Lazio, the down state congressman, still is fighting to define himself with upstate voters.
BOB DAVIS: Mrs. Clinton has been running in New York State for 15 months. In fact, you can take it back, almost two years because her and Bill and Al and Tipper came to Buffalo the day after the State of the Union Address in January of 1999. So she's been running for a long time. Rick Lazio started Memorial Day weekend, and there is no question, we need to put a little bit more meat on the bones of Rick Lazio's agenda for tomorrow.
AD SPOKESMAN: In Congress, he voted for the largest federal investment in public education in history.
KWAME HOLMAN: And that means running lots of television ads to augment campaign appearances.
|The upstate economy|
KWAME HOLMAN: A majority of voters in and around Buffalo are registered as Democrats, but they've felt comfortable helping elect Republicans in recent years. Across the rest of upstate New York, most voters are reliably Republican. Rick Lazio needs to do extremely well in both places in order to offset Hillary Clinton's dominance in heavily-Democratic New York City.
Located on New York's western edge, Buffalo hugs the Canadian border and Lake Erie. But it's closer to the Midwestern cities of Cleveland and Detroit than to New York City by geography, demographics, and economic structure. But unlike those other Great Lakes cities, which flourished over the last decade, Buffalo has floundered. Factories and warehouses are abandoned. Downtown, retail storefronts are boarded up. In the last decade alone, it's estimated Buffalo lost half of it's 600,000-person population.
SPOKESMAN: Are you really that satisfied -
KWAME HOLMAN: Both candidates were asked about the state of the upstate economy during that first debate in Buffalo just before Labor Day.
REP. RICK LAZIO: Let me say, first of all, I do believe that the upstate economy here has turned the corner. I think my opponent would like people to believe that upstate is a vast economic wasteland. It is not. As a matter of fact, there's been great progress. Do I think there's more work to be done? Absolutely.
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: I just have to point out that the Buffalo News, which has done a very good series of articles about the problems in the upstate economy, referred to my opponent as orbiting another planet -- because I have now spent countless hours talking to parents who tell me, with tears in their eyes, that their children had to leave upstate, leave their hometowns, because there weren't jobs for them. I want to help address that, not ignore it, not put happy talk on it. And I have a plan to do that.
KWAME HOLMAN: The Clinton campaign has turned the issue against Lazio.
AD SPOKESMAN: Rick Lazio doesn't think the area needs targeted economic help. Guess it's hard to find a solution when you can't see the problem.
KWAME HOLMAN: Is it fair to say he took a big hit with upstate voters when he made that assertion?
JOE CRANGLE: I think he was hurt by it, yes, especially in the western part of the state. I dare say that he was not traveling in upstate New York before he became a candidate, and his issues down in the Congress are more suburban-oriented toward Long Island, Suffolk and Nassau County, than they are so far as affecting people upstate.
KWAME HOLMAN: Did Congressman Lazio make a mistake by talking about the upstate economy as turning the corner in the first debate?
BOB DAVIS: No, I don't think he did. I think the spin doctors spun it as if it was a mistake, but the reality is the free fall has stopped, and we're moving in the right direction. Have we hit that corner yet? I guess that's open to examination by those who want to try to define what "turning the corner" means.
KWAME HOLMAN: There is evidence the upstate economy is improving. In the last 18 months, some 11,000 private sector jobs, many of them with new technology companies, moved into Erie County. But both candidates have plans to do more. Mrs. Clinton is calling for targeted tax cuts for families, and tax credits for small and medium-size companies. Rick Lazio wants across-the-board tax cuts to benefit families and businesses. And last week, while picking up the endorsement of Buffalo's Association of Realtors, Lazio stressed New York's need to recapture more federal tax dollars.
REP. RICK LAZIO: We get back about 85 cents on every tax dollar that New Yorkers send to Washington. Now, I think we need to have somebody in the Senate who is going to say to those entrenched special interests from the South or the Midwest or wherever they're from, "we are not going to take that anymore."
KWAME HOLMAN: Buffalo realtor to Tom Hollander liked what he heard.
TOM HOLLANDER: I think we have some issues here of the outflow of tax moneys out of our state to other parts of the country. And I think as the South and the Southwest developed; the Buffalo area in particular was harmed by that; and I think that Rick Lazio has got his hands on that pretty well.
KWAME HOLMAN: Realtor Daniel Symoniak also supports Lazio, but he's glad both candidates are focused on the upstate economy.
DANIEL SYMONIAK: As far as who has the best plan, I honestly do not know. I'm just greatly relieved that they both identified it as a major issue and are devoting specific attention to it.
KWAME HOLMAN: However, with less than three weeks to go before election day, many New Yorkers, particularly in the city and on Long Island, may not pay much attention at all to the candidates and their campaigns. Some may simply put the New York Senate race on hold while the Mets and the Yankees battle it out in the first New York "subway" World Series in 44 years.