- The Washington Times - Monday, November 6, 2000

NEW YORK First lady Hillary Rodham Clinton went to church yesterday, her spirits buoyed by one local newspaper poll that found her seven points ahead of opponent Rick Lazio in the U.S. Senate race.

Mrs. Clinton visited several black churches, giving mostly the same speech and parting with the same message: Vote on Tuesday.

She is courting a constituency that has been wildly supportive of her husband, President Clinton. In 1992, Mr. Clinton received 83 percent of the black vote, and in 1996, he got 84 percent.

"This election is more about children than it is about me," Mrs. Clinton told a congregation of 200 at the Bronx Christian Fellowship. The crowd was filled with grade-school-aged worshippers. "It's about what kind of society we're going to build with them."

Four hours later, Mrs. Clinton addressed an elderly congregation at a Queens church and promised a Social Security plan that would benefit them.

Both candidates are now concentrating on getting their supporters to the polls.

Mr. Lazio sought to rally supporters in traditionally Republican upstate New York. "It's the ninth inning, it's a tie game," he said at a Polish breakfast in Yonkers. "I feel very good about the momentum we have… . I know we are going to win this race."

Two new polls showed Mrs. Clinton with a lead over the Long Island congressman, but both leads were within the polls' margins of error. A New York Daily News/WCBS survey showed Mrs. Clinton ahead 47 percent to 40 percent, with a 3.5 percentage point margin of error. A New York Post/Fox 5 News poll had Mrs. Clinton up 49 percent to 45 percent, with a four percentage point margin of error.

Attacks and counterattacks continued in the campaign's closing days. Mr. Lazio's wife, Pat, defended him against a Clinton television ad in which a breast cancer survivor said he had tried to "gut" funding for cancer research. "It's a complete distortion and unfair," Pat Lazio said.

Mr. Lazio's campaign also released a statement from former first lady Betty Ford, a breast cancer survivor, in which Mrs. Ford said Mr. Lazio will "do anything he can to help eradicate this disease once and for all."

Yesterday's church services were a perfect vehicle for Mrs. Clinton's campaign. The festivity of the services made them a rally dressed in faith.

Mr. Lazio has not campaigned in New York's black communities, which was noted by pastor Charles Betts Sr. at the Morningstar Missionary Baptist Church in Queens.

"Who is he again?" Mr. Betts asked his congregation.

Neighborhood residents wondered the same thing.

"Why don't we ever see this other guy?" said Mohammed Riaz, a cashier at a local Amoco gas station. "He runs for office, but then doesn't come around to talk to us. Isn't this his kind of neighborhood?"

Polls show Mrs. Clinton with between 60 percent and 70 percent of the vote in New York City.

The first lady is using all of her cards; yesterday she borrowed from a speech delivered in the summer by NAACP Chairman Julian Bond.

She said that although black homeownership is at an all-time high, "I'm still not satisfied. In times of prosperity, it is easy to forget what is important."

Mr. Bond and other black leaders voiced identical concerns during the NAACP National Convention in July.

The NAACP says it will spend $9 million to get out the vote in this election. The 1996 presidential election had the lowest black turnout since 1944.

"For two more days, I need your help," Mrs. Clinton told 150 worshippers at the Morningstar Church. "I need you to ask people to vote for me."

A candidate may use the opportunity to make remarks. But pastors cannot endorse someone or they risk losing their tax-exempt status.

Churches, along with educational institutions and charities, are exempt from taxation.

Every campaign season, the IRS issues a reminder to those groups, warning them not to engage in political campaign activities.

Yesterday, at the Allen AME Church in Queens, Pastor Floyd Flake, a former congressman, made certain he was not misunderstood in the gospel of politics.

"We are a 501(c)3 organization, a religious organization," Mr. Flake said. He noted state comptroller Carl McCall in the crowd.

"Mr. McCall, this church has not endorsed a candidate."

Mr. Betts, however, was unchecked in his support for Mrs. Clinton and other Democrats.

"I would like to introduce to you the next senator," Mr. Betts said, referring to Mrs. Clinton. "I speak the word and the word is truth. After she goes to the Senate, she is going to come back to our communities and say 'Thank you.' "

Last month, a Bronx preacher substituted Mr. Lazio's name for Satan in a service hymn during a visit from the first lady.

The incident drew the attention of the Catholic League in New York, a watchdog group that makes sure the line between political advocacy and churches doesn't get blurred.

"We don't come down on either side for either candidate," said Patrick Scully, director of communications for the Catholic League. "But the issue is that the clergy should not be endorsing candidates, because when they do, they endanger their tax-exempt status."

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