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Hillary vs. Rudy


The New York Senate race is one of the most interesting and exciting in years. In many ways it is the most interesting of all of the national elections with implications on all levels of American politics: from grassroots to the White House. The news of Mayor Giuliani's prostate cancer has provided a new twist to the campaign but certainly does not diminish the interest that observers hold for the race. The entire country in one form of another may have a vested interest in the outcome of Hillary vs. Rudy.

In February, I wrote an analysis of some key factors impacting the race. It proved to be quite informative to a variety of readers from different parts of the political spectrum - professional and otherwise. It originally ran at politicallyblack.com. Here it is:

Taking the Empire State


When one looks at the race for the open New York seat in the U.S. Senate it is easy to get distracted by the polarizing personalities of First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. But that view of the race overlooks dynamics that are unique to the race and which have a bearing on this nation's political landscape. For casual onlookers and political scientists alike, the race provides an attractive array of nuances and peculiarities tailor made to hold one's attention. A view of the race from various angles reveals more than just the forces influencing who becomes the next U.S. Senator from New York. It also reveals much about the history of a state and the future of American politics. Here is how the race plays out in a few key areas:

The Issues. This race does not feature the traditional Democrat-Republican dichotomy. The candidates actually have major points of agreement. Both are pro-choice. Both are advocates of gun control. Both support gay-rights. Both support welfare-reform. The similarities are largely a result of Mayor Giuliani's political philosophy. The mayor is no traditional conservative. Even Republicans question his party loyalty and conservative credentials. And because of the mayor's gay-rights and pro-choice positions many Republicans in the state find it impossible to endorse him. On the other hand, the Mayor's positions, along with his approach to fighting crime, have allowed him to cross party lines and win the support of many Democrats. His centrist appeal may be the most interesting aspect of the mayoral race and a factor that gives Mayor Giuliani an advantage because it makes him resistant to the recent Democratic strategy of portraying all Republicans as far-right politicians with extreme views. With little to demonstrate that the Mayor is Newt Gingrich in-waiting Mrs. Clinton's campaign has emphasized Mayor Giuliani's mean-spirited personality and "divisive" tendencies much more than his positions. That strategy is an indication that the battle for New York will be waged in the center. Though she asserted in her announcement speech last Sunday that she is a "New Democrat" Mrs. Clinton is seen as a traditional liberal by most New Yorkers. Her advocacy of woman's rights and constant attention to healthcare do more to verify that impression than anything else. In order to combat that image and to win the "center" of New York, Mrs. Clinton is draping herself in the imagery of a suburban "soccer mom' and the political agenda of her husband. She is for welfare reform, child-support enforcement and targeted tax credits. She argues she is for a balanced budget and increased spending. She is for the death penalty and a rating system for T.V. and video games. Hardly the stuff of a traditional liberal but policies and positions that may resonate among moderate New York voters turned off by both her liberal trappings and the personality and reputation of her opponent. Mayor Giuliani, on the other hand, comfortable that he has tremendous appeal among swing voters, is moving to the right in order to increase his favorability among state Republicans and conservatives. In general, both are moving toward their right but for different reasons. Mrs. Clinton is trying to shake her liberal tag and convince a broader audience that she has a vision broad enough for an entire state. Mayor Giuliani is seeking to convince key elements of a crucial but more narrow audience that he can be trusted to represent their small but intensely-adhered-to agenda. The balancing act for both candidates is delicate but the political pay-off enormous. If Mrs. Clinton can maintain her core of liberal support while simultaneously portraying herself as a centrist, she will win. If Mayor Giuliani can maintain his core support of centrists while successfully appealing to conservatives, he will win. She wishes to push him further to the right than he wishes while he is confident that she cannot move to the center with credibility. The issue of education appears to be home to the final battle between the two. Mrs. Clinton hopes to portray Mayor Giuliani's embrace of vouchers in the face of a failing New York City public education system as extreme and insensitive to the poor . Mayor Giuliani hopes to portray Mrs. Clinton's defense of the public school system as a shameless attempt to do the bidding of the teacher's union and one that disqualifies her as anything other than a liberal. Here, the Republican and Democratic lines are clearly drawn and key constituencies will reflexively rally around their standard bearers. All things being equal, the key issue in the campaign will be education.

The Battlefields. There are three principal battlegrounds for this election: New York City, the New York City suburbs and Upstate New York. Currently the advantage in New York City lies with Mrs. Clinton but it is not the traditional advantage that a Democrat would hold in the Big Apple. This can be attributed to Mayor Giuliani's popularity in the city. And it is an aspect to the Senate race that gives Clinton advisors reasons to worry. Both parties and candidates poll even in the New York suburbs which tend to be more centrist than New York City. Here is where Mrs. Clinton's efforts to appear to be a moderate may pay a dividend. But all indications are that this region will be a dead-heat. Upstate New York appears to be where the race will be won or loss. This region is a strong Republican area and is skeptical of both candidates. Upstate New Yorkers see Mrs. Clinton as an outsider because she is not from New York and they see Mayor Giuliani as an outsider because he is from New York City. Ultimately, the region figures to be very issue-oriented with a plethora of specific and detailed problems that will have both candidates burning the midnight oil as they prepare to address the region's woes. Here, economic growth will be a factor as the region has been decimated by the disappearance of manufacturing jobs. Local issues will rule the day and provide many of potential minefields for both "out-of-towners". Both are enormously vulnerable to performing political gaffes while campaigning in this region, Mrs. Clinton more than Mayor Giuliani. Figure the city goes to Mrs. Clinton, the suburbs even and up-state to Mayor Giuliani. But by how much? There in lies the victory.

The Third Parties. The most interesting and underreported factor in the Clinton-Giuliani race may be the competition taking place between the two camps to win the favor of New York State's most influential 3rd parties. The two campaigns are known to be courting at least two of the three most influential parties: The Independence Party, The Liberal Party and The Conservative Party. And with good reason. First, many credit Sen. Charles Schumer's victory over Alfonse D'Amato (in the 1998 Senate race) to the fact that Schumer received 109,027 votes from individuals voting for him on the Independence Party line. The Independence Party party line appears third on the ballot, right after the Republican and Democratic parties. Secondly, the Liberal Party-- whose positions on healthcare, abortion, education , civil rights and the environment traditionally link them to Democrats-- endorsed Mayor Giuliani in the last election for Mayor of New York City. And third, no Republican has won in a statewide race in New York without the endorsement of the Conservative Party. In 1994 the Conservative party represented the margin of victory for Governor George Pataki and Attorney General Dennis Vacco and for Sen. Alfonse D'Amato in 1980 and 1992. Interestingly, no one has ever simultaneously received the Liberal and Conservative endorsements. All three parties-- though having have candidates of their own-- often endorse Democrat and Republican candidates that endorse their principles. The implications of this tradition are enormous and will certainly impact the race between Mrs. Clinton and Mayor Giuliani, possibly even determining its outcome. Currently, Mayor Giuliani is seeking the Conservative Party endorsement but may not gain it because of his pro-choice stance. And though the Liberal Party endorsed him for Mayor in 1997, the party is displeased with Giuliani's handling of the New York City's public school system. However, Mayor Giuliani's efforts to obtain the Independence party's endorsement have been helped by his position advocating that New York's ballot access laws be changed and specifically for advocating that the primary laws that were used in the unsuccessful attempt to prevent Sen. John McCain from competing in the GOP's New York primary be disposed of altogether. Mayor Giuliani's stance may help him with the Independence Party because the party is a strong advocate of ballot-access laws and political reform.

Mayor Giuliani would love to win the endorsement of all three of the parties and has an outside chance of doing so. Mrs. Clinton has no chance of winning the endorsement of the Conservative Party and is focusing her attention on the Independence Party and the Liberal Party. The Independence Party is considering endorsing Mrs. Clinton at present but may force her to compete for the party's nomination in a primary to be held in September. If Mrs. Clinton does not embrace Independence Party issues regarding political reform it is believed that the party may run a candidate that will almost certainly take votes away from her in November.

Considering that Mrs. Clinton is well aware of the contribution that Independence Party voters made to the surprise Senate victory of Charles Schumer's it would be a surprise if the First Lady did not do what was necessary to win the party's support. The Liberal Party's platform seems extremely compatible with Mrs. Clinton's positions but because the party endorsed Giuliani for Mayor only two years ago there is no guarantee that she can secure the party's nomination on the basis of ideological agreement. But odds are that Mrs. Clinton will win the Liberal party nomination that Mayor Giuliani may eventually win the Conservative Party's nomination-- with some arm-twisting performed on the party's leadership by Govs. Bush and Pataki. This would mean that the crucial 3rd party remaining would be the Independence Party. Both camps have already courted the Independence Party for its endorsement. And President Clinton has reportedly had discussions concerning the possibility of the Independence Party endorsing his wife with Thomas Golisano, a millionaire from Rochester New York who ran for Governor of New York in 1994 and 1998 on the Independence Party ticket. The party currently is caught up in an internal disagreement over its strategy for the Senate race but key voices within the party desire to endorse Mrs. Clinton. However, it has been Mayor Giuliani who has been the most vocal proponent of political reform in recent weeks. The mainstream media has reported the Mayor's advocacy of reform as an elaborate plan to position himself with John McCain but the effort can more easily be understood in terms of the selling point it gives the Mayor with the reform-minded Independence Party.

President Clinton. A major factor in the Senate race could center around the President of the United States. Considering that his decision to free members of the Puerto Rican FALN negatively impacted his wife's poll ratings and considering how his decision to address police brutality and racial profiling from the Oval Office may negatively affect Mayor Giuliani's poll ratings, one can only wonder if President Clinton is an asset or liability for his wife's campaign . His insertion into the campaign, whether intentionally or not, certainly places both candidates in an awkward position. For Mayor Giuliani, the problems arise out of the fact that New York City and his tenure as mayor have benefited from President Clinton's programs and initiatives, some of which have even been endorsed by the Mayor himself. Furthermore, they put the Mayor in the position of potentially criticizing programs that result in funds for New York City-something a sitting Mayor of New York City would never do. He decided to criticize Pres. Clinton's state of the union address, though it advocated more funding for Head Start and the hiring of new teachers, two initiatives that have been supported by the mayor in the past. Many see Mayor Giuliani's criticisms as a compromise of his duty to the city of New York and pure election-year politics. On the other hand, while the Mayor has resisted, Mrs. Clinton has decided to echo much of what the President offered in the state of the union address. After the speech, she subsequently offered initiatives that were derivatives or carbon copies of what the President laid out. In fact, her newest commercial, being broadcast across New York state, is a virtual replay of the most recent initiatives coming from the White House. In the final result, either candidate's ability to critique the other juxtaposed to the President's programs and initiatives could result in a political advantage. The President of the United States may be the biggest wildcard in the New York Senate race.

The Black Vote. If Democrats are to be successful in statewide races they will need to maximize Black turnout across the state. In harmony with such a goal, The Council of Black Elected Officials, late last year, established a goal of registering 250,000 voters statewide as part of its Y2K Voter Mobilization Crusade. According to Rep. Gregory Meeks (D) as many as 1 million Blacks are not registered in New York. Getting these Blacks to vote will be central to the success of Democrats in the year 2000 and will not be any more important than in the U.S. Senate race. If Mrs. Clinton is to carry New York City, one of the race's key battlefields, she will need to win not just an overwhelming percentage of the Black vote in New York City but a percentile as high as 90-95%. As was the case in 1998, Democratic strategists recognize that the Black electorate turns out in greater numbers to vote when prodded to do so by emotional appeals. This was the evident in the 1998 congressional elections when Democrats launched an enormously successful appeal that used burning crosses and made reference to the burning of Black churches. In New York City, the issue of police brutality is poised to be used by Democratic strategists in a similar way. Many Democratic strategists feel that the issue of police brutality and specifically the cases of Abner Louima and Amadou Diallo, must be spoken to in order to maximize Black turnout in New York City. This is especially true in the New York Senate race because Mrs. Clinton is running against a sitting mayor who in many circles is praised for his efforts in law enforcement. Polls indicate that Mrs. Clinton fares marginally well over Mayor Giuliani in New York City, far short of the traditional margins a Democrat in the city usually enjoys in a city where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans 5 to 1. To counter this, the Clinton campaign has decided to involve itself in the Diallo case - Mrs. Clinton has advocated a role for the federal government in the case and recently met with the Diallo family. The First Lady even has shared the stage with Rev. Al Sharpton in order to drive home the point to Black voters in New York City that she is opposite of Mayor Giuliani on criminal justice issues. The strategy, where New York City Black voters are concerned, is to stir up the Black vote against Mayor Giuliani around the issue of criminal justice and the Diallo case and yet not appear to be pandering to Black voters. If the strategy is successful, Mrs. Clinton can almost unanimously win the Black vote and a clear majority of all votes cast in New York City while appealing to more conservative white voters in the suburbs of New York and statewide. In this area, Giuliani's lack of support in the Black community and lack of a credible outreach could cost him dearly.

The 2000 Elections. Much of the context in which the Senate race will occur will be provided by the 2000 elections nationwide. The Republicans have effectively positioned themselves in an attempt to win New York State not just for Mayor Giuliani but for Texas Governor George W. Bush. This is at the root of the decision of GOP party leaders in New York and Washington D.C. to smother Rep. Rick Lazio's (R) original intention to run for the New York Senate seat. Almost immediately, Republicans embarked on a coordinated strategy to win the White House and open N.Y. Senate seat. They saw that Giuliani was a potentially much stronger candidate than Lazio in terms of national prominence, fund-raising and the ability to bring New York City into the Republican column. They also recognized that a Giuliani campaign, when combined with a Bush candidacy for president and the outside possibility that New York Governor George Pataki could be selected as Bush's running mate, could result in a Republican president carrying the state of New York for the first time since 1984. A Giuliani candidacy for Senate was viewed as a critical asset in the Republican attempt to overcome the 2 million-person advantage enjoyed by the Democratic Party in the state of New York. Parallel to this, the Democrats harbor hopes of taking back control of the Senate from the Republican party, while the chances of this happening are not great, Democrats cannot afford to lose New York if their effort is to be successful. The importance of the New York Senate race is not lost on the Republican Party either which explains the millions of dollars pouring into the Mayor's campaign from outside New York state.


Cedric Muhammad

Monday, May 1, 2000

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