Wednesday, June 22, 2005

NEW YORK — The New York state Republican establishment, eager to field a candidate to defeat Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s expected re-election bid next year, is backing high-profile prosecutor Jeanine Pirro.

“Jeanine, we are on your side,” 46 county GOP chairmen in the state said in a letter this week to Mrs. Pirro, the Westchester County district attorney. “Join the fight for all New Yorkers, and declare your candidacy for the United States Senate.”

Mrs. Pirro, though a Republican, disagrees with President Bush on abortion and hate-crimes legislation, which she supports. She won a “100 percent pro-choice” rating from Kelli Conlin, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice New York.

Backers say that Mrs. Pirro is the perfect “Hillary-fighter” — attractive, articulate and with a following, in part because of frequent television appearances as a prosecutorial expert.

But some prominent Republicans are supporting Ed Cox, a pro-life New York lawyer and Richard Nixon’s son-in-law, who already has committed to spend $1 million of his own money to capture the 2006 Republican Senate nomination.

Publishing magnate Steve Forbes, twice a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, has signed a fundraising letter on behalf of Mr. Cox, describing him as “both a great man and a great friend.”

Rep. Peter T. King, New York Republican, said he “urged Ed Cox to make the run.”

“He knows the issues, from education and economic issues to foreign policy, and nothing can be thrown back at him about his personal life and about anyone close to him,” Mr. King said.

Mr. King and other Republicans worry that Mrs. Pirro might be vulnerable to Democratic attacks because her husband, Albert Pirro, served a 17-month sentence for tax fraud, leaving prison in 2002.

Mrs. Pirro’s husband has been the subject of stories in the New York press about his purported relations with mob figures and accusations that he sold information to them about investigations his wife was conducting.

The situation is frustrating for national Republicans in the upper reaches of the party who fear they are about to blow their chances to undermine Mrs. Clinton, whom they regard as the most formidable potential Democratic presidential candidate for 2008.

These Republicans are looking for someone who can mount a credible challenge to her expected Senate re-election run next year. But the ideal Republican challenger would have to win the nomination without a bruising and expensive intraparty primary struggle, they say.

Although the White House and Republican National Chairman deny it, Pirro supporters have been saying that she has the tacit backing of President Bush and White House political counselor Karl Rove.

Some Republicans said privately that they are making behind-the-scenes efforts to persuade Mrs. Pirro to run for a lesser statewide office — attorney general — and that she is seriously considering such a move and will announce her decision within the next five or six days.

Mr. Cox, 58, has hired a top fundraiser for Gov. George E. Pataki to help finance a run against Mrs. Clinton, 57.

“I have 18 months before the election, and I am going to set up a 50-state operation for fundraising,” Mr. Cox told The Washington Times.

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