- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 12, 2000

NEW YORK The picture, courtesy of the White House, speaks more than a thousand words: a smiling New York Rep. Rick Lazio photographed as he firmly grasps the hand of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
Republican accusations of White House interference in the New York Senate race between first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and Mr. Lazio have Democrats calling the Lazio camp "conspiracy theorists" on the eve of the first nationally televised U.S. Senate debate.
The 1998 photo was released Sunday, days before tomorrow's debate between Mr. Lazio and Mrs. Clinton, the first of two scheduled public face-offs between the president's wife and the Republican from Long Island.
"If they think that the president and the White House and the first lady orchestrated anything out of the Oval Office, they are conspiracy theorists," said David DiMartino, spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
"At the very least in the debate, if he was planning on dropping a bomb on the Israel issue, he can't do it anymore," Mr. DiMartino said of Mr. Lazio.
Mr. Lazio has defended the handshake.
"There is a world of difference when you go over there as a congressional representative," he said. "It wasn't a kiss, it wasn't a hug and it wasn't a call for a Palestinian state."
Further calls to the Lazio campaign seeking an explanation were not returned.
The release of the photo which the White House said stemmed from a media request led the news here yesterday as Mrs. Clinton continued her efforts to court Jewish voters. She irked some in that traditionally Democratic constituency in a miscue last fall when she embraced Mr. Arafat's wife, Suha.
Howard Wolfson, spokesman for Mrs. Clinton, called Mr. Lazio's criticism of the first lady for the embrace "hypocritical," especially in light of the fact that the handshake photo was taken the year before.
New York's Jews have given at least 70 percent of their votes to Democrats in the past. Mrs. Clinton has fought hard to win back Jewish voters who reacted negatively both to her hug of Mrs. Arafat and her stated view that the Palestinians should have control of the West Bank.
Last month, Mrs. Clinton intervened to prevent Jonathan Pollard, the American convicted of spying for Israel, from being transferred to a more dangerous unit of the federal prison where he is serving a life sentence. Some observers speculate that her intervention could signal a possible future pardon for Pollard.
A weekend Zogby poll shows Mrs. Clinton has achieved 70 percent voter approval among Jews in New York state. A Marist College poll to be released today finds the same.
The latest squabble between the two candidates is not the first time the issue of White House involvement in the campaign has arisen:
The first lady's travel expenses are the subject of a Republican-sponsored bill that seeks to differentiate between taxpayer-paid travel and travel for her own campaign. That line is currently blurred, the legislation says.
The May investigation by the federal Civil Rights Commission of the New York Police Department was seen as politically motivated because Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani was, at the time, the presumed Senate candidate.
The Securities and Exchange Commission investigated Mr. Lazio in June after a newspaper reported the candidate had made a 600 percent profit in a few weeks by investing in securities of a company controlled by some of his biggest campaign contributors. Fellow Republicans accused the first lady of orchestrating the probe.
"I think the families of New York see all of this for what it is," said Dan Allen, a spokesman for the New York State Republican Party. "I don't think any Senate candidate has ever enjoyed the support and perks the first lady is enjoying from the White House. We have seven more weeks of this, and it will increase because the president knows his wife is in trouble."
Tomorrow's debate in Buffalo may help clear the air or, at the least, purify it.
"It will start with their formal meeting," said Lee Miringoff of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion. "Either they are going to shake hands, his way of saying hello, or they'll kiss, which is her way.
"I'd bet they shake hands."
The debate marks the start of the last chapter of a race that has captured the entire country, a race that threatens to eclipse even the presidential contest.
The event will be carried by all eight NBC affiliates in the state and will be rebroadcast nationally by MSNBC at 10 p.m.
The candidates are expected to focus on issues. Each has taken the other to the mat for stances on and dances around three issues that polls identify as most important to voters: health care, abortion and crime.
"It will be unique and historic," Mr. Wolfson said. "I hope it is a good discussion of the issues that matter to New Yorkers."

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