- The Washington Times - Monday, May 1, 2000

If New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani decides to fold the tent on his U.S. Senate bid, the Republican nomination awaits Rep. Rick A. Lazio, according to a party insider.

Mr. Giuliani, who announced Thursday that he has prostate cancer, will decide in the next two weeks whether he is going to continue his candidacy against first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Tests conducted Saturday found that the cancer has not spread, increasing the chance that the mayor could beat the disease and continue with his campaign.

Should the mayor step aside, though, "The job is Lazio's if he wants it," said the party insider. "But until then, Giuliani has the full support of the party."

Mr. Lazio, a Long Island moderate, last week told the mayor in a phone call that he would not challenge Mr. Giuliani for the Republican nomination.

The state's Republican Party is meeting on May 30 in Buffalo to nominate its candidate. Mr. Giuliani's campaign manager, Bruce Teitelbaum, said the mayor plans to be there to accept the honor.

"He's energized. He's looking forward to the race," Mr. Teitelbaum said yesterday on Fox News Sunday.

Stuart Roy, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said of Mr. Giuliani: "He's clearly the best we can recruit and have in the Senate race."

Mr. Lazio, 42, said last year that he might contest Mr. Giuliani for the nomination in a primary, but withdrew after pressure from the party.

Many consider Mr. Lazio's future promising and his manner appealing, a change from that of the sometimes abrasive Mr. Giuliani.

Still, "in the end, Rudy is the better candidate," said Rich Bond, former chairman of the Republican National Committee.

"Not to denigrate Lazio, but Rudy is more mature and has more experience," Mr. Bond said. "Rudy is the most capable of beating Hillary."

Voters appear to share Mr. Bond's view; a new public opinion poll released yesterday found that 82 percent of 601 New York voters questioned believe Mr. Giuliani is still a strong Senate candidate.

But Mr. Lazio could fare well in upstate New York, where suburbia has bred a moderate conservative voter and accounts for 70 percent of the turnout.

Some polls have Mrs. Clinton slightly ahead in the coveted regions, and she has strong voter support in the urban areas.

Mr. Lazio has no fear of well-entrenched Democrats, though.

He unseated the well-established Democratic Rep. Thomas Downey, an 18-year incumbent, in 1992 to gain his office. He did so, in part, by reminding voters of Mr. Downey's past financial indiscretions.

Mr. Lazio also brings a $3 million campaign war chest to a Senate race that already has been predicted to be the most expensive in history.

And he is a Republican member in good standing, having voted with the majority more than 70 percent of the time.

"Mr. Giuliani has always been a marriage of convenience with the Republicans," said Nelson Warfield, a veteran political adviser who served as press secretary for Bob Dole's 1996 presidential campaign.

He agreed that Mr. Lazio's approach could lure more voters in rural and suburban areas and said, "My fear for Rudy is that he's trying to create New York City in upstate New York."

The downside to Mr. Lazio as a candidate is that some of his views would bring a deluge of attacks from the Clinton campaign.

"They would make [Mr. Lazio] into a Long Island Newt Gingrich," Mr. Warfield said.

Mr. Lazio's biggest draw for the Republicans could be his following in the state's most lucrative third party, the New York State Conservative Party, which can account for up to 8 percent of the vote.

The Conservative Party has aggressively courted the lawmaker, refusing to back Mr. Giuliani because of his support of partial-birth abortion rights.

Mr. Lazio has voted for a ban on the procedure.

Chairman Michael Long said the party will announce its choice this week.

This is substantial support if indeed it goes to Mr. Lazio and if the congressman should pinch hit for the mayor.

The last time a Republican won statewide office in New York without the Conservative Party's endorsement was 1974. In 1994, the party provided the margin of victory for Gov. George E. Pataki by delivering 328,605 votes.

A Giuliani-Clinton face-off could require the support of a swing vote.

New Zogby International poll results released yesterday show Mr. Giuliani and Mrs. Clinton in a dead heat, with 42.6 percent of prospective voters backing the mayor vs. 42.7 percent for the first lady.

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