- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 8, 2000

NEW YORK — Hillary Rodham Clinton made political history last night, becoming the only first lady ever to be elected to public office.
Her narrow victory over Rep. Rick Lazio was as lean as her lead in the polls going into Election Day. An early tally had her edging out Mr. Lazio by three percentage points with reports of record turnout.
Nearly 85 percent of registered voters went to the polls in some upstate counties, with about 70 percent turnout in Mrs. Clinton's New York City stronghold.
Mrs. Clinton won on the basis of a huge gender gap. She won 58 percent of women's votes, while 51 percent of male voters went for Mr. Lazio, according to exit polls.
While Mr. Lazio won a majority — 53 percent — of New York's white voters, Mrs. Clinton won 89 percent of black votes and 76 percent of Hispanic votes.
President Clinton, his wife and daughter Chelsea were among the first voters to cast ballots at an elementary school near their home in Chappaqua, 30 miles north of New York City.
"She's going to win today," Mr. Clinton said to a horde of reporters. "You can't put me down as undecided."
Mrs. Clinton, clad in a now-trademark black pantsuit with a pale blue sweater knotted around her shoulders, shook the hands of supporters after voting around 7:30 yesterday morning.
She kissed her staff goodbye after the event and went home to relax before she and the president went to the Grand Hyatt in midtown Manhattan for a victory party.
Mr. Lazio shook the hands of commuters at a Long Island train station yesterday before going to vote in Bay Shore with his wife, Patricia, and their two daughters.
He told reporters there that voters will elect "someone who's one of them," another dig at Mrs. Clinton's carpetbagger status.
While the first lady did no campaigning yesterday, typical for most candidates, Mr. Lazio had a full schedule, traveling upstate and around New York City.
Turnout was nearing record levels both in New York City and upstate. The New York City Board of Elections called the turnout "very large," nearing the prediction of 70 percent. That figure was 56 percent in 1996.
Similarly, upstate polls were also packed.
"We average between 55 and 65 percent for a presidential election," said Cindy Corbett, Deputy Commissioner of Elections in upstate Jefferson County. "But this has been unbelievable, we're looking at 80 or 85 percent."
The voting closed Mrs. Clinton's 16-month-long campaign, which she announced at the Broome County farm of retiring Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan in July 1999 with a promise to deliver federal money to the state.
Her endeavor is unique for its length and the contest is historical because of the fact that the two candidates spent more than $50 million, what may prove to be the most expensive Senate race ever.
Mr. Lazio, who took over the candidacy when New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani bowed out for health reasons, was initially hobbled by his late entry as well as his congressional duties.
But the Long Island Republican pulled even in the polls within a month, and the polls remained close right up to Election Day — close enough to warrant a court order to keep the 400,000 absentee ballots mailed out under wraps. So far, 231,000 have been returned, said Lee Daghlian, a spokesman for the New York Board of Elections.
If the race is as close as the polls indicate, those sequestered ballots could decided the winner.
"But it would be next week that we would know," Mr. Daghlian said.
That would considerably dampen the festivities at Mrs. Clinton's hotel, where the 1,500 capacity Empire State Ballroom was bedecked with balloons and filled with more media than anyone ever thought possible.
More prominent than the stage was a three-tier platform for the hundreds of press people who gathered to cover the historic event. It creaked under the weight of cameras and the people who operate them, and left very little floor space.
"Not big enough," is how Democratic Party spokesman Peter Kaufmann described the ballroom.
The interest is understandable, given the Mrs. Clinton's notoriety as first lady.
She has campaigned relentlessly, visiting all of the state's 62 counties, a point she makes in almost every stump speech.
Her victory makes her the only first lady to hold elected office. Mrs. Clinton began her campaign in early 1999 with a "listening tour" of the state which spun into her candidacy.
Victory also makes Mrs. Clinton a major national figure in the Democratic Party.
The campaign has at times resembled a war, with both candidates constantly attacking each other at every stop. Three debates were meetings of platforms that sometimes became personal.
Usually unflappable, Mr. Lazio was red-faced angry at their third debate at WNBC-TV last month, when Mrs. Clinton accused him of being influenced by the interests of contributors when it comes to public housing issues.
"That's absolutely false and you know it, Mrs. Clinton," Mr. Lazio said. "There is one thing I won't tolerate and that's being dragged down into the mud."
But the mud has been thick, with each camp firing e-mails to the press in hopes of gaining some good ink. Mr. Lazio's campaign dubbed these "reality checks."
Mrs. Clinton repeatedly called her opponent's tactics "a campaign of insults."
The first lady has played the victim, lecturing reporters in late October when the news broke that state Republicans had been making phone calls to voters linking Mrs. Clinton to Middle Eastern terrorists.
"It is unacceptable," she said at an early morning news conference at Tompkins County Airport. "I never thought we'd see this kind of campaigning."
The New York State Republican Party acknowledged making the calls. Spokesman Dan Allen said last week that it was "kitchen sink time," meaning that few maneuvers were off limits.

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