- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 26, 2000

New York is 1,900 miles away, but Nancy McLees is as wrapped up in its U.S. Senate race as she is in the politics of her home state of Montana.

Rep. Rick Lazio and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton are staples of her political discussion, frequently visited fodder during her day.

The attention of Mrs. McLees and some of her fellow Republicans could be called normal; after all, no other sitting first lady has ever run for office.

"But it's really the idea that she came to New York and just assumed she could be senator," said Mrs. McLees, a former Philadelphian who now lives in Bozeman in southwest Montana.

On her 1998 GMC Jimmy is the trademark New York Republican sticker; the word "Hillary" with a circle and slash drawn through it.

"I really think she's a disliked person in many circles," said Mrs. McLees. "She is the opposite of what the feminist movement is all about, the way she stood for the [president's] infidelity … it really is a race that everybody here follows."

In fact the race is on the lips of many of those who follow politics everywhere.

The nationwide rebroadcast on MSNBC of the Sept. 13 debate drew 576,000 households, a 92 percent jump over the station's programming in that time slot a week earlier.

New York, geographically the 30th largest state in the union, commands this attention mostly because of the star power of Mrs. Clinton, who is a roundabout heir to an administration that has evoked the wrath of enemies and the love of its supporters.

Mrs. Clinton has not suffered from the national glare some polls have her ahead of Mr. Lazio nor has she wavered from her platform. Health care, education reform, creating jobs in the upstate and western parts of New York continue to dominate her speeches, whether she appears at a library or a Laundromat.

Mrs. Clinton's political run has wrought a host of anti-Hillary Web sites originating from all over the country, from California to Maryland.

Some offer coffee cups and bumper stickers while others present satires and spoofs of the first lady's stances and biography.

What gives with this sometimes-breathless anti-Hillary sentiment from out of state?

"That's the $64,000 question," said Jeff Stonecash, a political scientist at Syracuse University. "Boy, does she draw an intense reaction. All I can think of is that she is an indirect lightning rod for the hatred Republicans have for Bill Clinton. But it sure has given the race a national flavor."

In addition to Mr. Stonecash's theory, Mr. Lazio's status as a previously little-known Long Island congressman gives the race a dramatic David-and-Goliath subtext.

The first lady's campaign declined to comment.

Despite the apparent widespread dislike, Mrs. Clinton has been successful in tapping hard-money donors nationally.

Mrs. Clinton raised 57 percent of her itemized contributions from out of state through Aug. 23, the most recent figures available. For Mr. Lazio, that figure was 33 percent.

Much of Mrs. Clinton's money has come from personal donations from Southern states, where she is still remembered from her days as a prominent lawyer and the wife of Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton. She also has attended several fund-raisers outside New York or Washington.

So when Mr. Lazio or Mrs. Clinton mention that New York state residents are shortchanged $15 billion by the federal government in terms of taxation and services, that's not the issue for someone watching from, say, Michigan.

"It's about the demagoguery of the Clintons," said Art Wainwright, a retired broadcaster from St. Johns, Mich. During the Sept. 13 debate between the Mr. Lazio and Mrs. Clinton, he was following its progress in real time on line rather than wait for the national rebroadcast on MSNBC two hours later.

"Everybody wants to talk about it," Mr. Wainwright said. "Most of the people around here are Republicans, and they all want to discuss it even if it is New York."

Added Cris Lafferty, who follows the race from Seattle every day through New York newspapers, "It's really funny that New York, with the city that considers itself one of the most sophisticated in the country, is about to be swindled."

When it was time to find a campaign manager for Mr. Lazio, the party looked to Bill Dal Col, a man who managed the 1996 and 2000 presidential campaigns of Steve Forbes, over John Weaver Sen. John McCain's chief strategist who was on site in New York and expected to take over.

Even in Alaska, the fate of the New York Senate seat is creating buzz. The Republican Party of Alaska newsletter features a blurb on Mrs. Clinton and her use of taxpayer money for travel.

"Hillary has made a dent on our local political scene," said Randy Ruedrich, chairman of the Anchorage-based state party. "I was just at a luncheon the other day and the topic of her candidacy came up. I know that different people here have expressed interest in fund raising for Mr. Lazio. So even here, we care about how that race comes out."

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