- The Washington Times - Monday, May 22, 2000

Supporters of New York Senate candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton yesterday sought to link Rep. Rick A. Lazio to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and the "Contract With America," but her new opponent called the strategy "laughable."
"I think people on both sides of the ideological spectrum will find it laughable as well. The last thing, I think, that Hillary Clinton's supporters want to do is to talk about my record, because, I think, it scares the bejabbers out of them," the New York Republican said on "Fox News Sunday."
Mr. Lazio who appeared on all five Sunday morning political talk shows in his first full day as a Senate candidate did not shrink from the comparison.
"On the 'Contract With America,' which they're quick to raise, which one of those things is she against? A balanced budget? Welfare reform? Strong national security? Truth in sentencing?
"She's against all those things, I presume, by their attack. I'm for those things. I'm proudly for those things. Those are the things that helped turn America around," he said on NBC's "Meet the Press."
On CBS' "Face the Nation," Mr. Lazio said: "If that's what they're against and I'm for, I'm comfortable fighting on those grounds."
Linking Mr. Lazio, who entered the House in 1992, with Mr. Gingrich is an easy task: An analysis in Congressional Quarterly showed the New York Republican voted with the speaker 83 percent of the time in 1995. On the other hand, the centrist Republican who supports some abortion rights and some aspects of gun control voted with President Clinton 72 percent of the time in 1994 and 59 percent the previous year, according to voting records.
In virtually every television appearance he made, Mr. Lazio faced a coordinated assault by supporters of Mrs. Clinton, including campaign adviser Harold Ickes, campaign manager Bill de Blasio and spokesman Howard Wolfson.
"Beyond the fact that Lazio was a key lieutenant of Gingrich and someone who was very proud of having helped build the Gingrich revolution and supporter of the 'Contract with America,' the core point here is that the issue contrast [between him and Mrs. Clinton] is profound," Mr. de Blasio said.
Said Mr. Ickes: "Rick Lazio is just out of step with the mainstream of New York."
Rep. David E. Bonior, Michigan Democrat and House minority whip who has been an ardent defender of President Clinton, also criticized Mr. Lazio's connection.
"Clearly, when Rick Lazio was in the United States House of Representatives during Gingrich's first term, he went down the line with the 'Contract With America.' You just check out his votes," he said on CNN's "Late Edition.
"And not only that, check his comments, check his quotes in the paper with respect to Newt Gingrich over that period of time. He was very supportive of Speaker Gingrich."
But Rep. David Dreier, a California Republican who appeared on CNN, noted that "most of the Contract With America was signed by President Clinton: balanced budgets, unfunded mandates, national security" and welfare reform.
Mr. Lazio, who starts the campaign almost a year after the first lady began testing the waters, said he understands his greatest task and his greatest danger.
"My challenge is to make sure that people know the real Rick Lazio before the other side gets out and tries to fool the New York people about who I am," he said on CNN's "Late Edition."
House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, interviewed yesterday on "Fox News Sunday," said he finds it "amazing" that supporters of Mrs. Clinton are "already trying to demonize" her new Republican opponent.
But host Tony Snow countered that such analogies can only constitute demonizing "if you assume that Newt Gingrich is a demon." He asked Mr. DeLay the House's third-in-command if that was his assumption.
The Texas Republican responded carefully. "Well, the left has tried to demonize Newt Gingrich all this time, and, in some cases, were successful," he said.
But Mr. DeLay went on to say it is "so hollow to try to tie Rick Lazio to Newt Gingrich," he feels "sure New Yorkers are just going to laugh about that one."
A New York Post/Zogby poll released yesterday showed 46 percent of New York voters supporting Mrs. Clinton, compared with 32 percent in favor of Mr. Lazio. Sen. Mitch McConnell, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, pointed out on Fox that "her numbers are not that much different than they were before [New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani] left the race."
The poll also found two-thirds of likely voters don't know enough about Mr. Lazio to have an opinion of him, either favorable or unfavorable. Seventeen percent said they were undecided about whom to support, up from 11 percent a week ago when the Republican candidate was Mr. Giuliani.
So Mr. Lazio spent the day trying to define himself before the other side did it for him. Before giving a commencement address at a Long Island college and flying to four upstate cities, Mr. Lazio said he is "just a plain old New Yorker" native of Long Island, son of an auto-parts dealer, married with two small children who attend public school.
Asked by "Fox News Sunday" if there were any skeletons in his closet like drug or health problems, he said: "I'm clean as a whistle."
Meanwhile, Mrs. Clinton, who spent Sunday in Albany and Troy, scolded Mr. Lazio for using his campaign announcement a day earlier to attack her as a liberal carpetbagger with political ambitions beyond the Senate.
"I was a little disappointed yesterday that my latest opponent has already started hurling insults instead of offering ideas about what we can do to improve the lives of New Yorkers," Mrs. Clinton said.
Another issue widely discussed on talk shows yesterday was whether Mr. Lazio will benefit from any of Mr. Giuliani's $20 million campaign war chest and, if so, how much. Mr. Lazio starts the race with $3.5 million; Mrs. Clinton has raised $12 million.
Mr. McConnell said he expects Mr. Lazio will receive about two-thirds of Mr. Giuliani's contributions. He stressed that Mr. Giuliani "could not [legally] transfer" the funds "directly" to Mr. Lazio. But he could transfer them to the National Republican Senatorial Committee, Mr. McConnell said.

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