- The Washington Times - Monday, May 22, 2000

"You can tell from my accent that I am a lifelong New Yorker. I don't have to fake it… . I've never needed an exploratory committee to help me figure out where I wanted to live." Last week, New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani might have been the one saying that, firing a verbal broadside against the state's Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate, Hillary Clinton. But those were the words of New York Republican Rep. Rick Lazio as he stepped into the breach that Mr. Giuliani, a political casualty of prostate cancer, left open when he dropped out of the Senate race Friday.

It's not the matchup for which the press, political junkies and many New Yorkers were just counting down the days to start. But it's clear from Mr. Lazio's not-so-subtle opening remarks that he isn't running to lose. Republicans view Mrs. Clinton's political parachute jump into New York from out of state as one weak spot in her campaign. It's not something one can cover up with a New York Yankees baseball cap. Mr. Giuliani believed that, and obviously Mr. Lazio does too.

But Mr. Lazio also carries none of Mr. Giuliani's political baggage into this race. Democrats, and the media for that matter, had made much of the mayor's faltering relations with minorities in New York City in connection with cases of police brutality in the city, alleged and otherwise. (Ironically, minorities and low-income city dwellers were some of the biggest beneficiaries of declining violent crime rates there.) There was, too, the matter of the mayor's collapsing marriage and possible infidelity, which might have helped him pick up the adultery vote from Clinton Democrats but hurt him among his more conservative base. None of that applies to Mr. Lazio.

He is by no means a conservative Republican. He favors what proponents call "abortion rights" (although he opposes partial-birth abortion), backs much of the gun-control agenda and boasts of his environmental record. On the other hand, he supports tax cuts (including possibly the one proposed by presumed Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush), plans to give Social Security recipients themselves a chance to invest a small portion of their payroll taxes, and the opportunity for poor children trapped in lousy government schools to escape to the private sector. On the whole, no one would confuse his agenda with that of the Republican presidential platform, but by the standards of the New York electorate, it's moderately conservative.

After he announced his bid for the Republican Senate nomination and received assurances of getting it from party higher-ups Democrats fanned out among the media to portray Mr. Lazio as a disciple of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich who had, brace yourself, voted for the "Contract with America." That's the legislative blueprint Republicans implemented after winning the House of Representatives in 1994. Questioned about it on "Meet the Press," Mr. Lazio answered, "On the Contract with America, which they're quick to raise, which one of those things is [Mrs. Clinton] against? A balanced budget? Welfare reform? Strong national security? Truth in sentencing? She's against all those things, I presume, by their attack. I'm for those things. I'm proudly for those things. Those are the things that helped turn America around."

Mr. Lazio starts his Senate run far behind Mrs. Clinton, but with the help of Mayor Giuliani and New York Gov. George Pataki, Mr. Lazio may make a race of it about the same time the real New York Yankees are making one of their own.

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