New York Minute
At 73, Moynihan, a Democrat, is among the last of the Senate's grand old men. In addition to 25 years in the New York Senate seat, he served in the cabinets of Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, and Ford, as ambassador to India, and as the U.S. representative to the United Nations. The battle to determine who fills his shoes has been fierce, as a young Republican Congressman and a lightning-rod of a First Lady grapple for the affections of 10 million New York voters.
While the Lazio-Clinton match-up has been dynamic, it's probably nowhere near as dramatic as it might have been, had the original Republican candidate, New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, remained in the contest. When Giuliani dropped out of the race in May, for health and personal reasons, the disappointment in political circles was almost palpable. The battle of the giants was suddenly missing half the contestants.
Lazio, 42, a four-term Congressman from Long Island, stepped to the plate with the powerful backing of his longtime ally, Republican Governor George E. Pataki. The race quickly focused on issues of character, with Lazio eager to capitalize on lingering public mistrust and resentment of his opponent and her husband, the impeached president of the United States. Polls show one of three New Yorkers and one of four Americans have an unfavorable opinion of the First Lady.
Most of all, Lazio's campaign argued, she wasn't a real New Yorker, but a native of Arkansas and Washington, D.C. Lazio often reminded voters that Clinton only established residency in the state last year, and offered himself as a moderate home-grown alternative to people who wanted anyone but Hillary.
Mrs. Clinton conceded that if the race were based on "who has lived in New York the longest," she would lose. Instead, she turned her attention to the issues, campaigned intensely upstate, and tried to cast Lazio as an extreme conservative, trumpeting his ties to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, under whom Lazio served as Deputy Whip in 1994. She also warned New York voters that a Republican Senator would be forced to fall in line with GOP leaders such as Majority Leader Trent Lott and Senator Jesse Helms.
But few policy issues in the race garnered as much attention as the candidates' wrangling over "soft money," the largely unregulated contributions to political parties and outside lobbying groups that have paid for hundreds of influential ads.
At their first debate in Buffalo, Lazio crossed the stage to confront Mrs. Clinton, demanding she sign a pledge to stop accepting soft money. In an apparent violation of a rule against props, Lazio waved a piece of paper in her face and demanded she sign it. After a tense exchange, Mrs. Clinton declined, requesting that he first tell advocacy groups to stop advertising on his behalf. Polls later showed many New Yorkers, especially women, disapproved of Lazio's confrontational move.
In late September, after weeks of negotiation, the candidates finally reached agreement on a campaign financing deal. Both agreed to stop accepting soft money. Each asked supporters to stop airing ads on their behalf. But the agreement proved difficult to monitor and enforce.
At their second debate in Manhattan on Oct. 8, Mrs. Clinton claimed Lazio violated the agreement by accepting $1.8 million worth of television ads from the Republican National Committee. After Mrs. Clinton said New Yorkers couldn't trust Lazio to keep his word, he responded with a reference to the Clintons' practice of inviting influential donors to spend the night at the White House.
"Please, no lectures from Motel 1600 on campaign finance reform," Lazio quipped.
But that exchange marked the only tense moment in an otherwise polite debate, where the candidates took pains to calmly outline their differences on policy issues. Mrs. Clinton said she opposes spending public funds to build a sports stadium on Manhattan's West Side. Lazio said he supports the idea. Mrs. Clinton said she supported taxes on gasoline; Mr. Lazio declared his opposition. The candidates also split on public financing for political campaigns, a practice Mrs. Clinton supports, but which Mr. Lazio called "welfare for politicians."
Mrs. Clinton also reiterated her strong support for abortion rights, reminding voters that upcoming Supreme Court appointments could affect the future of Roe v. Wade.
Lazio also presented himself as a supporter of abortion rights but tried to paint Mrs. Clinton as an extremist on the issue, pointing out her support from the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League. He criticized her for supporting so-called "partial-birth" abortions, a characterization she disputed. "I can support a ban on late-term abortions including partial-birth abortions, so long as the health and life of the mother is protected," she said.
The candidates also have clashed on their economic plans for upstate New York, which is slowly recovering from the loss of about 100,000 jobs in industry and manufacturing in the early '90s. Early in the race, Lazio declared that the upstate economy had "turned a corner." Mrs. Clinton seized on this comment, saying it showed Lazio was "out of touch" with upstate, which continues to lose residents, especially young people. Mrs. Clinton's plan for upstate includes tax credits for job creation, job training centers and grants to encourage high-tech development. Lazio later qualified his "turned the corner" statement, highlighting tax cuts and public-private partnerships as the solution to the sluggish upstate economy.
On education, Mrs. Clinton touts her long record on children's issues, including her work for the Children's Defense Fund and her successful campaign as First Lady of Arkansas to reform the state's troubled public schools. She advocates increased federal spending and more rigorous teacher training. She enjoys the enthusiastic support of teachers unions, including the United Federation of Teachers, at whose headquarters she announced her candidacy.
Lazio, on the other hand, tends to agree with his party's leadership that control over education spending and policy remain local. He has called for $98 billion in new federal spending over the next 10 years on education, however --- much more than the $25 billion over five years proposed by George W. Bush. Teacher unions have opposed his teacher testing plan, which calls for firing teachers who twice fail a competency test given every five years.
Lazio and Clinton generally agree, however, on federal investment in new school construction and on alternative certification as a solution to the state's severe teacher shortage. Lazio's plan includes $60 billion in grants to states to cover the cost of special education over 10 years. Mrs. Clinton has offered a similar, smaller plan.
With less than a month remaining before Election Day, polls show Mrs. Clinton leading by about 4 percentage points, a margin that has narrowed in the past month to within the margin of error. Challenger Lazio remains undaunted by her lead, pointing to polls that showed him 18 points behind just days before the 1992 upset victory that won him his current House seat.