Washington Post
May 16, 2000

Giuliani Stays Undecided, Heightening GOP Anxiety

By John F. Harris and Michael Powell

NEW YORK (AP) -- While this year's most dramatic Senate race remained in a bizarre state of limbo, Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani (R) today continued to confound his impatient party by saying he has still not decided whether to continue his candidacy.

That left first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton (D), who aides say is eager not to be seen enjoying the chaos on the GOP side, searching for still new ways to say she has no comment on the Giuliani melodrama.

"You know I have no control over what the Republicans do," she told reporters at a brief news conference today, adding, "I'm just not thinking about that."

In fact, her campaign has been thinking about it plenty, gaming out different scenarios of what strategists believe is certain to be a newly contoured contest – even if Giuliani ultimately decides to make the race. The mayor said today he plans to devote this week, and possibly longer, to decide which treatment makes the most sense for his recently diagnosed prostate cancer, and knocked down speculation that he has all but decided to leave the race.

And as anxiety grew among Empire State Republicans – about who their candidate would be and whether that person would suffer grievous liabilities in the general election contest – a variety of aides and outside advisers to Clinton said that most of the plausible outcomes to the GOP disarray would be good news for her.

One exception, according to several Democratic sources, would be if Giuliani exits the race and Gov. George E. Pataki is persuaded – against his every inclination, aides say – to make the race.

The more likely scenarios, according to Clinton advisers, would give her an advantage that she never could have envisioned when her campaign was trailing significantly in the polls a few months ago. She pulled even before the recent GOP meltdown.

If Giuliani does run after all, Clinton advisers believe, it will be as a considerably weakened candidate. The public collapse of his marriage to Donna Hanover – particularly her contention that he announced he was considering a legal separation before consulting her – has erased what might have been a wave of sympathy for the mayor because of his recent diagnosis of cancer.

If the mayor drops out, the man many Republicans and several Clinton advisers believe is the most likely GOP nominee, Rep. Rick Lazio, would prompt a shift in message and strategy for Clinton. Although Lazio supports abortion rights, the Long Island politician is in most ways a conservative. Clinton, aides said, would switch from a campaign criticizing the moderate Giuliani as too combative to be a good senator to a more traditional Democratic campaign attacking Lazio as a tool of the ideological right.

"He's a lieutenant in the Gingrich army, with a series of votes that will be hung around his neck," said one Clinton adviser.

Lazio also would start with little money and little profile. "They're sending in a pinch hitter," said one Democratic source close to Clinton's campaign.

Other Clinton aides were a shade more guarded. Lazio, they said, might do well among suburban Catholics, a major voting bloc in New York. He also might be able to unite his party more than the divisive Giuliani could and excite more enthusiasm from rank-and-file Republicans.

Mostly, however, either Lazio or some other candidate would test what many analysts once regarded as the central reality of New York this year: Both Giuliani and Clinton are so controversial that neither would have little chance except in a race against the other. "The reality is we don't know," said one Clinton adviser. "This is a total shuffle of the deck."

Should Giuliani decide to remain in the race, his problems run deep – beyond even his health and marital travails. Conversations with labor and political analysts of various ideological stripes say the mayor faces electoral challenges that, while not insurmountable, belie polling numbers that show him in a neck-and-neck race with Clinton.

His problems fall into four broad areas. Labor unions are arrayed as a monolith against him. The leaders of the small but influential Conservative Party personally dislike Giuliani and plan to nominate a candidate who may cut into his vote. Clinton has pulled slightly ahead of Giuliani in upstate New York, where Republicans typically outpoll Democrats.

And, notwithstanding that a Republican controls the statehouse, New York voters tilt strongly Democratic in national elections. "New York voted 10 percent more Democratic than the nation in 1996," said Jim Chapin, a Democratic analyst, giving Charles Schumer an 11 percent victory over Sen. Alfonse M. D'Amato in 1998. "People consistently underestimate how Democratic New York state has become."

Giuliani faced a similar partisan disadvantage in New York City and succeeded by picking off traditional Democratic constituencies. He persuaded labor leaders to accept wage concessions without launching a frontal attack on them. In return, the public-sector labor leaders sat out the last mayoral election and private-sector unions endorsed the mayor.

That won't happen in this race. Most labor unions are solidly pro-Clinton. Today, the more conservative New York State Building and Construction Trades Council broke with Giuliani, a longstanding ally, and endorsed the first lady. "We are the Reagan Democrats," Edward Malloy, the council president, said. "We are here to let New Yorkers know that we share Hillary Rodham Clinton's centrist views." Malloy's endorsement packed a wallop, as he is a close ally of Pataki.

The first lady has virtually camped out upstate during the past year while Giuliani often has seemed reluctant to venture north of Westchester County. "She's worked very hard up here and filled a vacuum," said an influential New York Republican and advisor to Pataki. "Giuliani has taken it for granted that he could get votes up here without coming here and people kind of said: 'Well, no.'"

There is, finally, the Conservative Party, a boutique party that is a peculiarly New York institution. Run by a few hundred bosses who most often co-endorse GOP candidates who oppose abortion, gun control and higher taxes, the Conservative Party runs candidates who often draw more than 200,000 votes statewide. That can swing a close election.

"The mayor has nothing that gives him a ticket to our dance," said Michael Long, who rules the Conservative Party. "He's pro-choice, pro-gun control. . . . If he served with Hillary, he'd be no different on the big issues."

Copyright Washington Post Company. All rights reserved.