- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 1, 2000

This week in New York, Rep. Rick Lazio received the warm endorsement of the Republican Party to run for the U.S. Senate against Hillary Rodham Clinton.
It has been just two weeks since Mr. Lazio stepped into the role of Republican Senate candidate from the state of New York after Rudy Giuliani decided to bow out of the race to attend to his health. Voters, not to mention the media, were initially thrown by the dramatic change in cast and chemistry. That is, no longer would the New York Senate race be measured by the sometimes blinding wattage of notoriety and renown. Instead of Hillary vs. Rudy, a match between celebrity heavyweights, the Senate race seemed suddenly to have gone lopsided Hillary vs. Rick …who?
But look again. Already, less than a week after a Zogby poll showed Mr. Lazio drawing just 32 percent of likely voters vis-a-vis Mrs. Clinton's 46 percent, a new Zogby poll places Mr. Lazio in a virtual dead heat with his well-known Democratic opponent, 44 percent to Mrs. Clinton's unchanging 46 percent. This is amazing. At what should be an apex of Mrs. Clinton's popularity the point at which her opponent is unknown and untested as a Senate candidate she has failed to boost her own popularity, while Mr. Lazio has quickly made the part of Senate candidate his own. So forget Hillary and Rudy. Meet Mrs. Clinton and The Fresh Faced Kid.
And so far, the Kid is doing all right. Why? Mr. Lazio's splashy debut as a candidate may have gone swimmingly, but there is more to his early surge than that. Great numbers of New Yorkers simply do not like the first lady, and would prefer to vote for someone, anyone else, preferably a New Yorker. A moderate's moderate, the Long Island-born Mr. Lazio just might fit the bill. He supports gun-control, moderately, applauding the Brady Bill and the ban on assault weapons, while calling on the administration to enforce existing guns laws before pushing for new controls. He supports abortion rights also moderately but opposes partial-birth abortion. He displays a strong rather, moderately strong streak of environmentalism. He has a pleasant smile. He walks on two legs. No wonder his numbers are up.
Of course, also to be taken into account is the sledgehammering, teeth-gnashing reception with which Mrs. Clinton and her surrogates greeted this boy-next-door congressman-turned-Senate-candidate, a man who comes across more Republican-lite than anti-Hillary heavy. In kicking off his campaign against Mrs. Clinton he said he respected her for being "a liberal and a proud one" Mr. Lazio also had the audacity to criticize the first lady as a liberal carpetbagger with political ambitions beyond the Senate. For even mentioning one of Mrs. Clinton's primary political weaknesses, Mr. Lazio was castigated for "hurling insults" by Mrs. Clinton who, perhaps, would do well to consider a less insulting career in, say, lace-making. Her spokesman, Howard Wolfson, after a brief faint, no doubt, described himself as being "shocked" by Mr. Lazio's rhetoric, recovering sufficiently to accuse the congressman of being "overwhelmed" by his "hatred of her."
Why? This brings us to Phase 2 of the Clinton strategy of demonization. The reason Mr. Lazio is prone to hurling insults and being overwhelmed with hatred is because, as Mrs. Clinton's campaign manager, Bill de Blasio, put it, Mr. Lazio was "a key lieutenant of [Newt] Gingrich." In a variation on the same theme, Howard Wolfson called Mr. Lazio a "Gingrich Republican with a record that's too extreme for New York." The words "Contract with America" have been hurled about, well, most insultingly. While Mr. Lazio has gamely taken the bait, daring his opponent to come out against any number of successful proposals from Mr. Gingrich's venerable master plan for American prosperity, chief among them, a balanced budget, welfare reform, and strong national defense, the Hillaryites should be careful. When people stop and remember just how much of the "Contract with Americaa" Bill Clinton, for one, has actually signed off on, they may realize just how many people are Gingrich Republicans despite themselves, and see the demonizers for what they are.

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