Fresh from her latest world tour, Hillary Rodham Clinton has begun to shed the first lady role and devote her energy to hiring staff for the
New York Senate exploratory committee she is all but certain to announce just after July 4.
At this stage the Clinton campaign is shaping up as "Primary Colors" II, with loyalists from her husband's 1992 presidential campaign forming the nucleus of her growing New York team.
Clinton is in constant touch with 1992 and 1996 veterans Harold Ickes and Mandy Grunwald, who do triple duty as Clinton loyalists, political knife fighters and New Yorkers. She's also counting on Clinton spinmeister/attack dog James Carville as well as fund-raiser Terence McAuliffe, the principal money-man for the 1996 campaign. All that's missing is Betsy Wright and her bimbo patrol, and Clinton loyalist turned critic George Stephanopolous, who severed the last of his tenuous ties to the Clintons with his self-serving memoir, "All Too Human: A Political Education."
Carville, of course, coined "It's the economy, stupid" as the Clinton 1992 campaign slogan. The Clinton 2000 mantra could be: "It's Buffalo, stupid."
Ever since she returned from her whirlwind trip through Europe and Northern Africa on Wednesday, the first first lady to run for elective office has been in non-stop strategy sessions to ramp-up for the New York race. The not-quite-campaign's first order of business is to hire a press secretary. A few weeks ago Clinton brought in Dick Riley to audition for the job, which he performed for former New York Mayor Ed Koch.
Reaching for more New York connections, Clinton is scheduled to meet Friday with Tony Bullock, chief of staff for retiring Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who she hopes to replace in 2000. Bullock, according to aides, could serve a variety of purposes on the emerging campaign team, from communications to campaign director.
Clinton has already assembled a team heavy with Empire State operatives and political veterans. For pollsters, the first lady is leaning toward Mark Penn and Doug Schoen, according to Harold Ickes. Penn's New York-based firm is the president's pollster in the state. New Yorker Gabrielle Fialkoff would oversee Hillary's fund-raising operation. New York venture capitalist Alan Patricof and his wife, Susan, will join former deputy treasury secretary Roger Altman to help reel in the $20 million it will take to finance the campaign.
Karen Adler, a board member of the United Jewish Appeal Federation, is said to be lined up to solidify Clinton's ties to the huge Jewish community. Bill DiBlasio, who ran Bill Clinton's New York operation in 1996, is a leading candidate to manage the first lady's campaign, according to the New York Daily News. Hank Morris, who advised Sen. Charles Schumer in 1998, also visited with Clinton in early June.
The only explosions this week were the sound of Rudy Giuliani self-destructing. The pit bull mayor of Gotham and Clinton's likely opponent for the Senate seat managed to piss off both the press and civil libertarians when he barred Talk magazine from holding its launch party at the Brooklyn Navy Yard because Hillary reportedly will grace its inaugural cover. An enraged Giuliani stalked out of a press conference after reporters pressed him for details behind the decision to kill the party. In the process he made an instant enemy of Talk magazine editor Tina Brown, who happens to be married to Harold Evans, who happens to run media enterprises for Mort Zuckerman, who happens to own the New York Daily News.
A poll released this week shows that Giuliani had better get serious about running against Hillary Clinton. In his own city, Giuliani is behind Clinton 63 percent to 26 percent, according to the poll released by the Daily News. Blacks support the first lady over the mayor 88 percent to 3 percent, and Latinos prefer her by 77 percent to 13 percent, the poll shows. In upstate New York, where Republicans typically run better than Democrats, Clinton trails Giuliani by a scant five percentage points, 45 percent to 40 percent.
But the real fight for votes will take place in the suburbs. Registered voters there give a slight edge to the mayor, 48 percent to 39 percent, which doesn't come close to offsetting the first lady's popularity in Manhattan. All the more reason for Clinton to bring Tony Bullock into her camp, since he held elective office for 13 years in Suffolk County.
"The Long Island press knows me well," Bullock says. Clinton could also surprise observers who expect her to move to Manhattan by settling in Westchester County, instead, to give her better claim on those key suburban voters. Republican sources claim she's been eyeing property in the tony suburban enclave.
The Clinton political and financial juggernaut preparing to assault New York could almost make you feel sorry for Rudy Giuliani. Neither Clinton nor Giuliani has officially announced for the Senate seat, but both have begun gnawing at one another, with Rudy deriding Hillary for being a "carpetbagger."
It might be good politics for Giuliani to cast himself as "poor Rudy," the underdog falling prey to the monied interlopers. Given his ballistic reaction to the Talk magazine episode, the former prosecutor can't help but play the tough guy. Unfortunately, the tough guy role is wearing thin on New Yorkers.
The state GOP is anything but united behind the Republican mayor. While Giuliani is trying hard to hang the carpetbagger image on Hillary, upstate New Yorkers already see Rudy as an objectionable outsider simply because he's mayor of New York, the big city they love to hate. Old rivalries between Giuliani and former Sen. Al D'Amato and Gov. George Pataki date back to the mayor's endorsement of Democratic Gov. Mario Cuomo in 1994. Since then, New York Republican politics has split into two camps, and the upcoming Senate race could bring the tension to a head.
The candidate of the Pataki camp is Rep. Rick Lazio, a conservative who is positioning himself as the race's true Republican, contrasted with the cosmopolitan, Cuomo-supporting Giuliani. Lazio has hired Tony Fabrizio, who advised Bob Dole's 1996 presidential campaign, to do polling and consulting for his campaign. Lazio has also lined up endorsements from some of his House colleagues, including Republican conference chairman J.C. Watts of Oklahoma.
The prospect of a Republican slugfest has some New York GOP operatives darting for the sidelines. Elizabeth Dole's recently departed campaign leader Kieran Mahoney, who had worked for Pataki and D'Amato, told Salon News he "is happily staying out of this one. I've got other stuff to do."
Giuliani is gearing up, too. Republican sources confirm that Adam Goodman, who worked Giuliani's two mayoral races, has once again signed on, and Frank Luntz will be doing the mayor's polling. Peter Powers, his finance director and former chief deputy mayor, will also occupy a prominent spot in the mayor's inner circle during the campaign. But the New York Observer reported last week that Lazio had just about convinced Christopher Lyon, Giuliani's political director during the 1993 mayoral campaign, to come on board. Operatives inside the mayor's office see Lyon's signing up with Lazio as an act of aggression.
Also missing from the Giuliani reunion is Cristyne Lategano. The mayor's former press secretary and confidante -- who many media outlets have suggested is more than a colleague -- left city hall recently for an extended leave, amid rumors that she and the mayor had a major rift. Lategano is still on the city payroll, using up six months of accrued vacation hours according to city staff, and vows she will return to the mayor's side after Labor Day.
The book on Hillary Clinton is that she's a policy wonk and not a seasoned political campaigner. Actually, she's both, with emphasis on the latter. In the 1998 campaign she hit the hustings every week from coast to coast to raise money and votes for Senate and House Democrats. More to the point, she made at least a dozen campaign trips throughout New York state to help Sen. Charles Schumer defeat Republican Alfonse D'Amato. It was her star power during that campaign that helped convince New York Democrats she'd be the best candidate to follow Moynihan.
In hindsight, it seems as if the Schumer campaign was a test run for Clinton's own Senate candidacy. She'll continue the real race on Monday with a trip to Manhattan with the president, and, later in the week, a scheduled swing through the heart of the state.
Rudy will be in Manhattan, fuming.