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Don't Sleep on Lazio


I was surprised over the weekend, after Mayor Giuliani announced he was dropping out of the race to become the next U.S. Senator from N.Y., at how seriously television media- outlets discounted Rep. Rick Lazio's chances against First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton. Having spent some time in Upstate New York in recent years, I found it incredible that many professional political analysts would so easily predict that Lazio was an overwhelming underdog. That simply is not the case.

The key to winning the Senate seat has always been how each candidate would fare in the Upstate region of New York - a region that is not interested in a personality contest but in who will be able to address the chronic problems of that region, like the dilemma of economic destabilization resulting from the loss of a manufacturing base that formerly served as the lifeline of much of the area.

The media's fascination with Hillary Clinton is no barometer over how well she will fare outside of New York City where it appears that she will do quite well (possibly beating Lazio by as much as 3-1 odds). Rather, her media stardom and out-of-state presence could be a burden for her to carry in Upstate New York especially since Lazio, who appeals to core Republicans and some moderates, has entered the race. If Lazio can successfully appeal to the region on issues like education, the environment and healthcare and advance an economic growth agenda that resonates, he can make tremendous headway in the region where Hillary is most vulnerable.

In an informal "taxicab" poll that I conducted in Buffalo earlier this year, 3 out of 3 cab drivers informed me that Giuliani's N.Y. City residency, was about as much a negative for him as Hillary's Arkansas status was for her. In Upstate N.Y.- New York City is considered not only another state, at times, but to some, it might as well be another country. Lazio will not suffer from this handicap as his New York credentials are beyond reproach.

In addition, Lazio's authentic conservative status has immediately secured him the endorsement of the Conservative Party, which reportedly represents nearly 170,000 votes. The Conservative Party's endorsement is an endorsement that Giuliani was denied because of his pro-choice position but one that no Republican running in a statewide election has been victorious without.

Another concern for Hillary's campaign, not being picked up by the political media, at any length, is the impact that Lazio's campaign will have on the Black vote. Hillary, thus far, has attempted to use the issue of police brutality to rile up the Black vote to turn out for her against Giuliani - it proved to be an effective strategy. But what will she do now that the poster boy for Black dissatisfaction in NYC is off of the scene? Her strategy appears to be to paint Lazio as the second coming of Newt Gingrich but that claim is open to serious debate and one even wonders how much Blacks in the five boroughs worry over the days of Newt. One thing is for sure: the anti-Giuliani vote is much bigger than the anti-Gingrich vote. If the Black vote fails to turn out in droves for Hillary in New York, her weakness and Lazio's apparent strength in Upstate could result in a Lazio victory.

So there is more than meets the eye in Lazio's entry into the race - certainly more than the simple depiction of Lazio as having no chance.

Instead of gawking over his boyish looks and Hillary's hairstyle maybe the media should poll a few Buffalo cab drivers.


Cedric Muhammad

Tuesday, May 23, 2000

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