- The Washington Times - Monday, February 14, 2000

BUFFALO, N.Y. Bob D'Angelo and John Mecca share a lot of passions. They adore living in Buffalo. They have enjoyed bowling together for almost 40 years. And the retirees love meeting their chums once a week for a leisurely breakfast.

But when it comes to politics specifically, New York's heated Senate race one man plans to vote for first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and the other prefers New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani.

"I like Hillary. She could do a lot for the state," said Mr. D'Angelo.

"I don't think she has enough knowledge about New York," countered Mr. Mecca as they drank coffee in the Towne House Restaurant on the edge of Buffalo's ailing downtown last week.

Buffalo and other cities in upstate New York are the biggest battlegrounds in the tight race. Mrs. Clinton inaugurated her "official" campaign swing here Feb. 7. Mr. Giuliani stopped by Thursday and Friday with his campaign strategists in tow.

Both candidates have targeted New York's second-largest city with ads to entice voters.

"It's going to be a dogfight," said Democratic Rep. John J. LaFalce, who represents the northern part of Buffalo and the Niagara Falls area. That region has become increasingly Democratic since heavy industry fled, while the city's southern area, like much of upstate, leans Republican.

Democratic Rep. Louise M. Slaughter said some analysts believe "that the deciding votes in this race will be cast" in Erie County, whose 613,088 residents are represented by Mr. LaFalce and Republican Rep. Jack Quinn; Westchester County, the home to 537,585 voters, including the Clintons; and Monroe County, where Rochester is and whose 426,235 voters Ms. Slaughter represents.

Mrs. Clinton "was very wise spending a lot of time up here meeting with everybody, every county," Ms. Slaughter said.

While Mr. D'Angelo and Mr. Mecca say their voting choices are firm, an important chunk of the state's 10.9 million voters remain either undecided or unaligned with either party.

Paul Brown, a Rochester native and banker for 35 years, is one of them. Although the black independent voter said Mr. Giuliani "has alienated himself from minorities," he would still consider voting for the mayor, but is leaning toward the first lady.

"I have to hear more of the issues," Mr. Brown said.

Mrs. Clinton "is definitely a person who has a lot of savvy in national issues," he said.

Karen Keane, who works as an IBM customer-service representative and lives in a suburb of Rochester, also is leaning toward Mrs. Clinton.

"I would probably vote for her. I don't know exactly at this point," the registered Democrat said. "I am not too much into politics."

Black and female voters are normally a Democratic candidate's most dependable supporters. But polls show that Mrs. Clinton is having problems attracting white women like Mrs. Keane.

Voters interviewed in Buffalo and Rochester last week say they were most concerned with health care and education, two issues Mrs. Clinton is targeting, and job growth, the subject of one of Mr. Giuliani's most recent ads. Several also cited Social Security as a major concern.

While the abortion issue did not surface in interviews, it is still likely to play a role in the race. Because of Mr. Giuliani's pro-choice views on the topic, he may not get the endorsement of New York's Conservative Party. No Republican candidate has won a statewide election without it since 1974.

At a party meeting in Albany last week, Conservative Party Chairman Michael Long said he is ready to support Long Island Republican Rep. Rick A. Lazio if he chooses to get back into the race. Mr. Lazio stepped aside at the urging of Republican Gov. George E. Pataki.

"I don't think Congressman Lazio will enter the race," Mr. Pataki said during a brief interview in Buffalo Friday. "I know he is interested, but I think he will recognize that we have to be united."

Mr. Pataki added: "In my view, Mayor Giuliani will win the race in New York. He knows the state. He knows the issues. We want someone who is going to be a fighter for New York and not start out day one with a national agenda."

The Conservative Party has almost 172,000 voters and another 52,000 are registered with the Right to Life Party, the latest New York State Board of Elections records show.

Then-Rep. Charles E. Schumer had the support of the state's Liberal Party when he unseated the Republican incumbent, Sen. Alfonse M. D'Amato, in 1998, but the party, which has 95,000 registered voters, could endorse Mr. Giuliani in this race. The Liberal Party's chairman is a longtime friend of the mayor and two of his sons work for the city government.

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