Stick a fork in Rick? According to a new statewide poll published today, New York Rep. Rick Lazio's campaign for the Senate against first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton is in serious trouble with less than five weeks to go before Election Day.
The poll of likely voters, conducted by Newsday and New York television station WB-11, shows Clinton opening up a healthy 10-point lead, 52-42, in what for months had been a race statistically knotted. (Clinton's margin jumps to 14 percentage points among registered voters, 53-39.) More importantly, the poll of 1,101 voters, with a 4 percent margin of error, reveals Clinton dominating in virtually every demographic and in most regions around the state.
And with a companion poll showing Vice President Al Gore burying Gov. George W. Bush by 31 percentage points in New York (creating a likely tidal wave effect for Empire State Democrats), it adds up to a current of bad news for the Republican congressman.
The news may drive to distraction some of Clinton's vocal detractors in the press, who have been predicting her demise for nearly a year. Just last Monday, New York Post columnist Dick Morris, who has been wrong about this race with stunning regularity, told readers that his interpretation of the polls indicated Clinton was the one in deep trouble. Why? She was "stuck at 48 percent of the vote. Hillary has got to pull her poll number up to 50 percent in order to win."
Two days later a Quinnipiac College poll showed Clinton breaking past the 50-percent mark for the first time. Now Newsday has her at 52 percent.
Conservative Wall Street Journal contributing editor Peggy Noonan, who writes a "Hillary & Company" column weekly, was so sure Lazio won the first senatorial debate with Clinton on Sept. 13 that she assured readers, "It will continue to be close." Adding, "I will be surprised if Mr. Lazio doesn't get a boost in the polls from Wednesday's performance. And if he uses that boost to make it a stronger, deeper campaign it could mean everything."
Fact is, Lazio and Clinton were tied in the polls leading up to the debate. And their meeting seems to have dramatically changed the dynamics of the race. Just not the way Noonan had predicted. (Then again, this is the same columnist who at the time of Gore's convention acceptance speech, the one that single-handedly jump-started his campaign, labeled it "a rhetorical failure and, in my view, a strategic blunder of significant proportions.")
According to Newsday, Clinton is now clobbering Lazio among a whole range of voter groups: women (+26), Jews (+17), Hispanics (+59), blacks (+87; Lazio grabs a humiliatingly small 4 percent), 18- to 29-year-olds (+25), 30-49 (+12), 50-64 (+14), low income (+19), middle income (+18) and upper income (+16).
Geographically, Clinton has heavily Democratic New York City sewn up (+45), which is no surprise. But the first lady is now running even among crucial suburban voters, and comfortably ahead (+17) in the city's northern suburbs, where she now lives. Upstate, once considered to be a GOP bastion, Lazio leads by 10 points, far less than expected. (Lazio is barely ahead on his native Long Island.) Throughout the state, the congressman does best among older white men.
On the issues, voters polled picked Clinton again and again, on abortion (+23), healthcare (+24), education (+19), social security (+20), the environment (+19), the economy (+14), the Middle East (+17).
Thanks to his recent push to rid the New York race of so-called soft money, Lazio did get the edge among New Yorkers on the issue of campaign finance reform (+9).
Basically, Lazio is doing very well among white, upstate Catholic men over 65 who feel strongly about campaign finance reform. But very few others.
Even more troubling for the Lazio camp, the poll suggests the congressman's boxed in terms of strategic options. Clinton the carpetbagger? Republican fundraising letters have pounded that point for months, urging contributors to help "stop this ambitious, ruthless, scheming, calculating, manipulating woman from fooling voters into thinking 'she's one of us.'"
Yet a whopping 62 percent of respondents told Newsday's pollsters it doesn't matter whether or not Clinton had never lived in New York until last year. That issue, it seems, is effectively off the table.
Should Lazio continue his slashing campaign style? According to the poll, New Yorkers think he's already been overly aggressive, with 37 percent suggesting his debate performance was "too negative," compared to just 17 percent who felt the same way about Clinton's debate appearance. By being so aggressive Lazio has driven up his own unfavorable rating to 38 percent, nearly identical to Clinton's 37 percent.
Even the strident, pro-Lazio New York Post reports today that the congressman's attack ads, honing in on Clinton's character ("You just can't trust her"), are not working. As one Republican strategist said to the Post, even before the new poll numbers were released: "I think it's [Lazio's] race to lose, but he's doing a good job of it."