- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 2, 2000

It's a well-known fact that Hillary Rodham Clinton was born in Illinois, educated in Massachusetts and Connecticut and lived most of her adult life in Arkansas and Washington, D.C. And despite the fact the first lady has never lived or worked in New York (or paid taxes in the state for that matter), she has decided that she would best represent the interests of New York in the U. S. Senate. By any stretch of the imagination, this notion is ludicrous. Yet the mainstream media has left the carpetbagger issue largely unchallenged.
When Mrs. Clinton threw her hat in the ring and reinvented herself as Hillary!, she felt she couldn't let the carpetbagger issue pass without addressing it in some way. "I may be new to the neighborhood," she said, "but I'm not new to your concerns." For The New York Times, this one sentence qualified as hitting the carpetbagger question "head on." The broadcast and 24-hour cable networks were similarly satisfied with this explanation as to why someone who has been a resident of a state for only a month could lay claim to a vacant Senate seat.
While the Hillary campaign would very much like to run a race on the issues of a reinvented New Democrat or resort to attacks on the three-month-old campaign fund-raising letters of her likely opponent, New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, the New York press as well as the national media that has descended upon New York needs to ask the question, "Mrs. Clinton, why New York?"
The truth of the matter may be that reporters fear that "the" race of 2000 may not be a race at all if Mrs. Clinton has to answer this basic question. Reporters love competitive political races sometimes more than getting answers to legitimate questions. But if those questions are asked, a real risk is run of putting an end to the horse race of "Hillary vs. Rudy." And no horse race would mean the end of the party for reporters. No more bus rides with the candidate. No more buffalo wings in upstate New York. No more ribs at Sylvia's in Harlem. No more Yankees games in the Bronx. And perhaps, most importantly, no more TV time on "Hardball" or "Geraldo."
Sometimes the most obvious questions get overlooked. Look at what happened to Sen. Edward Kennedy in 1980. For months he was given a free ride by the press until Roger Mudd had the temerity to ask the heir to Camelot, "Why do you want to be president?" Mr. Kennedy stumbled on this softball and his campaign never recovered. I'm sure quite a few reporters were miffed that Mr. Mudd actually asked this question. For them, this meant no brokered convention.
For many journalists particularly those in the national media the carpetbagger issue in the New York Senate race is a red herring. They see the job of United States senator as a national office and one in which those competing for it ought to be judged by what they can bring to the institution. While this is true, journalists should also recognize sheer opportunism when they see it. Mrs. Clinton's run for the U.S. Senate from a state in which she doesn't even have a library card, a driver's license or a Blockbuster Video membership just doesn't pass the smell test. It's a power grab pure and simple.
In defining herself as a centrist Democrat, Mrs. Clinton told a Purchase, New York crowd, "For over 30 years, in many different ways, I've seen first-hand the kinds of challenges New Yorkers face today." What she left out of her speech was that she has seen these "challenges" from Wellesley, New Haven and Little Rock. And while Mrs. Clinton has traveled to New York extensively over the past eight years, these trips have more often than not been for party fund-raisers. Mrs. Clinton is a bright and talented person, but even for her, it can be quite difficult to see these "challenges" from the Waldorf Astoria or from Steven Spielberg's house in East Hampton.
How important is the carpetbagger issue? That's something that New Yorkers will have to answer. But if recent history in neighboring New Jersey is any indication, voters care about where their Senate candidates are from and their reasons for running. In 1988, Pete Dawkins, a former Army brigadier general, Rhodes Scholar, Heisman Trophy winner and recent New Jersey resident took on Sen. Frank Lautenberg. Although his background made him qualified for the office, his attitude was similar to Mrs. Clinton's: "I've arrived to be your senator." His attempt at answering charges of carpetbagging sounded eerily similar to Mrs. Clinton. Philip Christenson's explanations: "I could have lived anywhere, but I chose New Jersey." Voters didn't buy it (some even saw his run as a stepping-stone to higher office) and he was trounced in the November election.
Of course, the Clinton campaign would much rather repeat the success of another New York carpetbagger, Robert F. Kennedy. But even Kennedy who had actually once lived in the state had to address the carpetbagger charge repeatedly during his campaign. It may seem like a minor issue particularly to a profession in which moving from place to place is part of the job. But to New York voters, it's an issue that will not go away. The national media and the New York press need to listen to the electorate. They need to ask the question, "Mrs. Clinton, why New York?"

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