Lazio hits below the Beltway

The New York Republican slams Hillary Clinton as a national embarrassment.


Alicia Montgomery
July 7, 2000 2:34AM (UTC)

Rick Lazio has previously attacked his opponent in the New York Senate race, Hillary Rodham Clinton, for running a smear campaign against him. But the Republican congressman built a recent fundraising letter on the premise that the first lady is the wicked witch of the West Wing. ABC News reports that Lazio called Clinton and her husband national embarrassments, but singled out Hillary as an arrogant busybody with megalomaniacal tendencies. "She covets power and control and thinks she should be dictating how other people run their lives," the Lazio letter states. "No other Senate hopeful enjoys a liberal national press that hangs on her every word and treats her never-ending soap opera of scandals as 'irrelevant' and 'yesterday's news.'" During a trip on his campaign bus, the "Mainstream Express," however, Lazio tried to step away from the harsh language of the missive. "Frankly, these letters are written not by me," Lazio said. "I'm not disowning it, but they're not written by me."

Both sides of the New York Senate contest bear responsibility for the snipefest. The Clinton campaign has launched a flurry of anti-Lazio ads and, in its own direct-mail appeals, belittled Lazio's run as the product of "Republican Party kingmakers."

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Gore's populist revival
During his "progress and prosperity" tour, Al Gore continues to run away from his inside-the-Beltway image. Reuters reports that Gore is striving to become a working-class hero, regularly blasting "big oil" and "price-gouging" drug companies, and adding greedy insurance providers to his hit list during a Pennsylvania campaign stop. "I have taken on that industry in the past and I will take it on again as president until we ... give medical decisions back to doctors, nurses and families," Gore vowed. The vice president specifically targeted the advocacy group Citizens for Better Medicare, a political nonprofit that has backed ads critical of Gore's healthcare reform plans. In a letter requesting that the organization unseal its donor list, Gore labeled the group's stated mission a sham. "It is already clear that the real faces behind CBM are not those of America's elderly ... but those of the high-profit pharmaceutical corporations," he wrote.

Taking aim at Gore's gun record
Over much of his legislative career, Gore was one of the Democratic faces behind the National Rifle Association, earning that group's A or A-minus rating in three of his first five campaigns. According to the New York Times, whether Gore's emergence as NRA enemy No. 1 represents a genuine evolution of his philosophy or just a politically expedient flip-flop remains under debate. Those who followed Gore's early years as a Tennessee congressman question the sincerity of his pro-gun sentiments in the first place. "My thinking is that he wavered on gun control," said Lloyd Armour, who supervised Gore when he worked on the editorial page of the Tennessean. "But you had to recall that he was from a very conservative, I mean very conservative, district. He could not have survived if he had been as forthright as he is now." Nonetheless, Gore voted in the late 1970s to stop the government's tracking of guns by serial number, and supported a sweeping reversal of federal firearms restrictions when he became a senator in 1984.

Evidence of Gore's change of heart surfaced in 1987, when he began to ally himself with the gun control crusade of Sarah Brady, now president of Handgun Control Inc. The vice president's campaign staff insists that Gore's reversal was influenced by the increased lawlessness and firearm fatalities of that era. "The views of many people, not just elected officials, have evolved on this issue as gun violence has become more prevalent," said Mark Fabiani, Gore's deputy campaign manager for communications. The veep's new attitude also coincided with his first run at the presidency in 1988.

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Bush draws new lines on immigration
The Texas governor has sought to reverse much of his party's history on the immigration issue. Reuters reports that George W. Bush called on the Immigration and Naturalization Service to speed up its paperwork processing and handle new arrivals with more consideration. Speaking to the National Council of La Raza in California, Bush asserted that his presidency would signal a brighter era for the nation's newcomers. "Legal immigrants are the future and the changing face of America and we should welcome them and treat them with respect," he said. "We will bring to the INS a new standard of service and culture of respect." Bush's proposed reforms are part of his appeal to Latino voters, an increasingly important voting bloc in several battleground states.

A few good women
The media and the party faithful have been waiting for Bush to announce his choice for vice president. But an Associated Press report suggests that Bush and voters have very different ideas about running mates. Some prominent female Republicans ranked highly with voters. According to the Intersurvey poll, Elizabeth Dole trails only dream-team veeps retired Gen. Colin Powell and Sen. John McCain among the public's choices for the No. 2 GOP spot. (Neither of those men wants the job.) New Jersey Gov. Christie Todd Whitman outpolls the much-talked-about Frank Keating and Tom Ridge, governors of Oklahoma and Pennsylvania, respectively, as well as Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson.

On the Democratic side, primary challenger Bill Bradley bested a field of current senators, including John Kerry of Massachusetts, Evan Bayh of Indiana, Dianne Feinstein of California and Richard Durbin of Illinois.

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Pro-choicers won't buy Bayh
Core constituencies often want veto power over presidential candidates' veep picks, and Bayh is getting an early thumbs down from abortion rights activists, who don't want him on Gore's ticket, the Washington Post reports. "I think Bayh is very bad," said Patricia Ireland, president of the National Organization for Women. Bayh earned the enmity of pro-choicers with his vote to ban "partial birth" abortions, but says an anti-woman tag on his congressional career is unfair. "My record on women's rights and opportunities for women, any objective analysis would conclude, is very strong," said Bayh. As governor of Indiana, Bayh said, he won a "breaking the glass ceiling" award for promoting women to top positions in government. He thinks his pro-choice voting record is solid, and that only pro-abortion absolutists would disagree. Of that group's reasoning, Bayh said, "There is no room for any mixed feeling, when the American people themselves have some mixed feelings."

On the other side of the aisle, Ridge's veep campaign is also thought to be doomed over the abortion issue, with Christian conservatives threatening to defect to Pat Buchanan if Bush selects Ridge or any other pro-choice vice president.

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Poll positions

  • Gore 46 to Bush 45 (Newsweek June 29-30).
  • Bush 52 to Gore 39 (CNN/Gallup/USA Today June 23-25).
  • Bush 40 to Gore 39 (Associated Press June 21-25).
  • Bush 49 to Gore 41 (NBC/Wall Street Journal June 14-18).
  • Bush 52 to Gore 40 (Voter.com June 11-13).
  • Bush 50 to Gore 40 (Los Angeles Times June 8-13).
  • Bush 47 to Gore 39 (Zogby June 9-12).
  • Bush 49 to Gore 45 (ABC News/Washington Post June 8-11).

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  • Alicia Montgomery

    Alicia Montgomery is an associate editor in Salon's Washington bureau.

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