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Lazio Is Blowing It


Not that my 28 years of life on this earth makes me an expert on such matters, but I have never seen a campaign underperform like that of the U.S. Senate campaign of Rep. Rick Lazio. A campaign that should be about Lazio's responsiveness to and understanding of the concerns of New Yorkers; his demonstrated ability in Congress; and his personality and inclusiveness has turned into a dismal effort focused upon a watered-down and insignificant form of campaign finance, personal attacks on Hillary Clinton and little outreach to non-white constituencies, particularly Blacks.

As soon as I heard that Lazio was running, I knew that Hillary was in trouble. Having spent a considerable amount of time in New York - upstate and in New York City - I knew that Lazio was no Rudolph Giuliani. He was not someone that Hillary and the Democrats could easily demonize like the New York mayor, especially among Blacks.

Even Rev. Al Sharpton publicly stated that he was open to Lazio courting the Black vote, surmising that Lazio had a good chance to get 15 to 20 percent of the Black vote if he would simply ask for it and demonstrate an understanding, responsiveness and sensitivity to issues that concerned Blacks. Sharpton knew that Hillary was using him to rile up the Black troops in her efforts to win as much as 95% of the Black vote. And such a goal was achievable with the issues of police brutality and racial profiling on the front burner.

But sure enough, as soon as Giuliani dropped out and Lazio replaced him, Hillary forgot Sharpton's phone number and name.

The door was then open for Lazio to launch an initiative at winning a significant portion of the Black vote all across the state.

But Lazio, somewhere along the way, listening to some bad advice, bought into the argument that Blacks are unthinking drones who will vote Democratic regardless to what a Republican thinks, says or does. As we can see in a recent article on the Lazio campaign in the New York Observer, we may be able to thank consultant Mike Murphy for such brilliance. Murphy, in his work on other Republican campaigns, has a historic and demonstrated aversion to seeking the Black vote - stereotyping an entire people in the process.

But don't get stuck on Lazio's ineptitude in dealing with Black voters. It does not end there.

Lazio, actually had the nerve to go to Buffalo, New York a city obviously still struggling from the erosion of America's manufacturing base, and get in front of a national TV audience, during his first debate with Ms. Clinton and say that Buffalo and Upstate New York are not suffering as much as people think. He tells this to the editor of the Buffalo News and to the debate's moderator, Meet The Press host Tim Russert, a former resident of Buffalo. And he repeated his baseless assertion with a straight face.

Of course, Hillary jumped into the void telling all that she felt upstate New York's pain and that she would offer some remedy, including tax cuts, if she were elected U.S. Senator - not bad for a "bleeding heart, big-government liberal" as the Lazio campaign has depicted the First Lady.

And to compound matters, Lazio has allowed his campaign handlers to try to transform him into John McCain-lite. No one has any idea why Lazio has bought into the idea that if he pushes a ban on soft-money it will somehow help him win the race. Rarely has one witnessed such misplaced energy. Lazio's new obsession is taking valuable time and resources from other issues that New Yorkers care ten times more about.

At the rate he is going, Lazio is headed for defeat and probably deserves to lose in light of his recent misguided "transformation".

If Republicans can argue that Al Gore should not gain support because he is constantly reinventing himself, can't the same standard be applied to Rep. Lazio, who seems to have lost his compass and political identity in his lust to win the U.S. Senate seat?

Lazio needs to get in touch with himself and back on message. Hillary-hating, irrelevant campaign finance reform, revisionist economic history and ignoring the Black vote are no way to win an election.

Lazio should let Mike Murphy know that the next time he is allowed to offer an opinion on the direction of his own campaign.


Cedric Muhammad

Thursday, October 19, 2000

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