- The Washington Times - Friday, May 26, 2000

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (AP) Hillary Rodham Clinton said Thursday she understands why some people are skeptical about her intentions in running for Senate, but insisted she wouldn't use the seat as a steppingstone to the presidency in 2004.

"I don't blame people for being skeptical," the first lady said during a voter forum.

She said: "I feel I owe it to the people of New York to serve a six-year term."

Republicans have repeatedly charged that the first lady wants to use the Senate as a springboard for a presidential run, if not in 2004, then in 2008. When pressed on what she would do if Democrats pleaded with her to run in 2004, she said: "That is not going to happen."

Mrs. Clinton also answered questions about how she would campaign against her Republican opponent, Rep. Rick A. Lazio, and about her faith.

Asked whether she would try to link Mr. Lazio to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Mrs. Clinton said, "I cannot speak for all my supporters, because certainly the facts are that he was closely allied during those years … with that leadership in the Congress, and I think New Yorkers need to know that."

Mrs. Clinton's campaign aides have already branded the Long Island congressman as a Gingrich lieutenant who embraced the former speaker's "Contract With America."

Mr. Lazio, who stepped into the race last week after New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani bowed out, has said he supported only those parts of the contract he felt were good for New York, such as lower taxes and a balanced budget.

Mrs. Clinton also said she already has shown she can work with people in Congress, even those who don't particularly like her.

"The important thing in the Senate is not ever to be insulted by whatever anybody says about you … [and] after what I've been through for the last seven years, nothing they can say can possibly hurt my feelings," she said.

At one point during the forum, a Republican asked Mrs. Clinton: "If you were to die tonight, would you know if you would spend eternity in heaven or hell?"

Mrs. Clinton was taken aback by the question but responded: "I consider myself like any person of faith to be doing the very best I can… . I cannot tell you where I will be. I can only hope and pray that I will find favor in God's eyes."

The first lady went on to say she did not believe "that we should be, in public life, be putting people in a position of responding to questions that really focus more on one's personal faith."

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