- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 1, 2000

CORNING, N.Y. A newly energized Rep. Rick A. Lazio dubbed his campaign bus the "Mainstream Express" yesterday on a trip through central New York, his first since winning the Republican nomination Tuesday for the U.S. Senate.

He also fired off some of his sharpest attacks at his opponent, first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, saying voters should ask whether the election is "about ambition, or is this about public service?"

Mr. Lazio started the day off playing to accommodating but small crowds outside his Syracuse hotel by saying that "we are here to unite, not to divide."

But he managed to take shots at Mrs. Clinton at almost all of his stops throughout the day.

In a stop in Watkins Glen, the Republican congressman said New Yorkers should ask candidates: "What have you done for us for the last eight years? Have you been in our corner, or are you just a Johnny-come-lately who is aspiring to a position?"

He repeatedly assured listeners yesterday that he was "a real New Yorker," a reference to oft-stated claims that Mrs. Clinton, an Illinois native and longtime Arkansas and White House resident, moved to New York solely to run for Senate.

Mr. Lazio's efforts to position himself ideologically did not end with the bus name, which echoes the "Straight Talk Express" of Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona and his White House run that attracted some Democratic and independent voters.

Mr. Lazio also told reporters: "This is a struggle between somebody on the far left and somebody in the center."

At a Syracuse dairy plant, a former company executive clutched the candidate and gave him a hearty endorsement as he concluded a 35-minute tour.

"You're young, you're energetic and you're just what we need," Vincent Byrne told Mr. Lazio.

It was a heady start for Mr. Lazio, a Long Island congressman who now begins the formidable task of telling the state of New York who he is, particularly the 70 percent of voters outside New York City. Their support would have to form the core of a Lazio win.

In Watkins Glen, his beige tour bus with "Lazio 2000" emblazoned on the side pulled down Franklin Street, the city's main drag, loudly blasting an old Bob Seger song.

Wearing a blue blazer, a salmon polo shirt, khakis and, of course, the ever-present smile, Mr. Lazio stopped along the way to shake hands with shopkeepers and well-wishers in the crowd of mostly young supporters.

Mr. Lazio told the Watkins Glen followers that he and his wife, Patricia constantly at his side in the 2-week-old campaign are raising their two daughters and that "no village is going to teach them what parents can," a dig at Mrs. Clinton's book on child rearing, "It Takes a Village."

Ahead of schedule, the campaign made one unscripted stop, at a mall in suburban Binghamton. Mr. Lazio, with a full media entourage, walked through the mall and purchased two videos for his tour bus, "Notting Hill" and "Analyze This." As he shopped, he greeted customers, some of whom responded with puzzled looks when he said, "I'm Rick Lazio."

Mr. Lazio was formally nominated Tuesday after New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani bowed out of the race May 19, citing his battle with prostate cancer.

The 42-year-old lawmaker has eight years of congressional experience and a voting record, a point he said he will continue to make. Voters need to check into that record, he said, which he proudly touts as mainstream.

"Last week, I went to the Hill over farm issues," Mr. Lazio told a small crowd outside the Byrne Dairy plant in Syracuse. "I'm interested in the same things that New Yorkers are concerned about, because I've lived here all my life: high-paying jobs, a first-rate education for our kids."

"I expect to be held accountable. I cast hundreds of votes and I want you to ask me about those."

Still fresh in the race, Mr. Lazio needs to garner name and face recognition, his biggest challenge. He acknowledges that he still lies in the shadow of Mr. Giuliani, whose rancorous nature brought him both attention and, in some quarters, disrespect.

"I wasn't going to vote for Giuliani," said Rod Williams, who attended yesterday's campaign stop at Glenora Wine Cellars, about 25 miles west of Corning. "I wouldn't have voted in the Senate race if Lazio wasn't in it."

Many people, though, did not know who Mr. Lazio was before his appearances. Even more were on the fence on the race, which, because of the first lady's candidacy, has grabbed national attention.

"I didn't know who he was, and I was tending towards voting for Hillary," said Lori Maans, a retired schoolteacher in Watkins Glen. "But now I'll have to think about it."

Her husband, Don, was more noncommittal: "I'll wait and see who makes a mistake, who goofs up. I tend to think it will be Hillary."

During the day, small groups who didn't seem to be there to cheer for Mr. Lazio peopled the crowds, curious but hardly enthusiastic.

And then there were the outright protesters whom Mr. Lazio is unlikely to persuade.

His pro-choice stance was attacked vigorously in Binghamton, where several people held up signs reading "all abortions kill" and "Republicans [should] oppose abortions."

"I thought he would be a cool candidate. He's young, but I'm not impressed," said one of the sign bearers, David Franzonello, 19.

"This is an important issue," he said. "People say that [Mr. Lazio] is the lesser of two evils, but that's not good enough."

Mr. Lazio is generally pro-choice, but has voted against federal funding of abortions and partial-birth abortion.

No protesters were as bold as Cathy Calhoun in Syracuse, who wore a red "N.Y. Women for Hillary" button on the lapel of her yellow windbreaker.

"I'm here to watch him, but I'm a Hillary supporter," Miss Calhoun said, holding a video camera. "I was called by the state Democratic Party and the Hillary campaign to attend this and see what happens."

Mr. Lazio faces an uphill battle, fellow New York Republican Rep. Amo Houghton noted in introducing the candidate at the winery.

Mr. Lazio responded with a line he had used at least three times in the past 24 hours: "More important than winning this race, I want to make sure that I am worthy."

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