The 2000 Senate race in New York to fill the seat vacated by the retirement of veteran Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan is attracting serious attention nationwide.
Perhaps thats not unexpected considering that this is the first time that a first lady has run for office while her husband is still in the White Houseand that the lady is Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Spin determines how the results of the states Sept. 12 primary are viewed, as well as who claims victory in the first of three debates in the campaign, televised from Buffalo, NY, on Sept. 13. Thats when Clinton faced off against her GOP opponent for the first time.
The only thing both sides agree on is that Clintons race against Rep. Rick Lazio, a Long Island Republican, is very close and continues to be close. Preliminary polling immediately after the debate showed no more than a 1% gain by either side, and the race has been a dead heat almost since Lazio became his partys nominee after New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani pulled out after announcing he had prostate cancer.
Clinton frequently evoked the name of Newt Gingrich and Lazios ties to the conservative former Congressman, arguing that Lazio portrays himself as a moderate in the closely watched race but has a record much farther to the right.
Lazio answered angrily, saying that to compare his record to that of Gingrich has to redefine the word chutzpah.
If you had a record, you wouldnt need to use Newt Gingrich, Lazio told Clinton. Im running for the Senate, not Newt Gingrich, he repeated several times.
The two faced off on a range of issueshealth care, the upstate economy, the right of teachers to strike, casino gambling, school vouchers and the environment. But the most dramatic was the confrontation over campaign finance reform when Lazio challenged Clinton to sign an agreement vowing to forsake soft money.
In the primary the day before the debate, Clinton swept past her little-known challenger, soundly defeating Dr. Mark McMahon 5-1, as expected. Clinton had 82% of the vote to 18% for McMahon, an orthopedic surgeon.
Few observers commented on the fact that almost 20% of the Democratic basethe people who regularly turn out for primariesvoted against Clinton and for a guy who was almost unknown and ran no significant ads. Actually in some precincts, McMahon polled more that 20% of the Democrats.
Lazio was unopposed in the primary.
In other news, Vermont posed questions for the nation with a backlash to the new state law granting civil unions for gay couples. Six state legislators were ousted in their primariesfive Republicans who supported the law and one Democrat who opposed it.
This is probably something thats going to take a generation to resolve, said Republican House Judiciary Chairman Thomas Little. He beat back a challenge focused on his role as one of the laws authors.
In other state primaries, Vermont Democrats chose state Auditor Ed Flanagan, the nations only openly gay statewide officeholder, for Senate. He faces GOP Sen. James Jeffords in the fall.
In Minnesota, department store heir Mark Dayton spent $5 million to win the Democratic Senate nomination in a challenge to first-term GOP Sen. Rod Grams, who some consider vulnerable this year.
In Rhode Island, GOP Sen. Lincoln Chafee, appointed last year to fill out the fourth term of his late father, John, had no opposition. Rep. Robert Weygand won the Democratic nomination for Senate.
Vermonts moderate Republican Jeffords easily won nomination to a new term, as did Sen. Herb Kohl (D-WI). Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-CT)also running for VPfaced no primary challenges.
Democratic Vermont Gov. Howard Dean won nomination for a fifth term, and will face Republican Ruth Dwyer. New Hampshires Democratic Gov. Jeanne Shaheen won and will face former Sen. Gordon Humphrey.
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