Millennial Matchup

Zany and Historical Factors That Will Make Rudy or Hill a Winner 

Can the White House settle the Vieques matter in a way that secures Hillary's Latino base?

Will Mort Zuckerman and Pinch Sulzberger allow any 2000 dealings with the Giuliani administration over their respective Times Square towers to influence coverage or endorsements? Will television assignment editors still let the Partisan Post set their news agenda on election coverage?

Is it finally going to dawn on New York women that this state has never elected one?

illustration: Dale Stephanos

What would a market nosedive or recession do to Hillary or Rudy? What about a summer race incident or riot? What about another Oval Office romp? If Bill could stage a bombing attack to coincide with impeachment, what timely commander-in-chief crisis can he cause to prove his love to Hillary?

THE BIGGEST IMPONDERABLE IN THE SENATE RACE is the presidential. Anyone who doesn't think it can influence a state race is a stranger not only to New York politics, but American politics. Senate majorities have shifted with presidential landslides. In this state, presidential and senatorial races have occurred simultaneously eight times in the last half century. (Gubernatorial and other statewide elections never occur in presidential years).

The same party whose presidential candidate carried the state won the senate seat five times, a different party three times, suggesting a minimal coattail effect. But a look at the eight races underlines just how important the presidential results will be in shaping a run for a vacant senate seat.

Each of the three times that a senator from a different party than the presidential winner was elected, he was an incumbent. Irving Ives, a Republican who was first elected to the senate in 1946, was reelected in 1952, even though Democrat Adlai Stevenson narrowly defeated the GOP's Dwight Eisenhower on the state's presidential ballot. Jacob Javits, a two-term Republican won again in 1968, even though Democrat Hubert Humphrey carried the state's presidential election. Javits actually got fewer votes than his two opponents combined—Democrat Paul O'Dwyer and Conservative James Buckley. Al D'Amato, another two-term Republican, won a 98,000-vote squeaker in 1992 in part by attaching himself to Bill Clinton, who overwhelmed George Bush here.

In three other instances, the coattail effect was so strong it helped a challenger beat an incumbent whose party lost the statewide presidential election. Bobby Kennedy beat incumbent Republican Kenneth Keating in 1964, and Lyndon Johnson carried New York. Pat Moynihan beat Republican/Conservative James Buckley in 1976, and Jimmy Carter carried the state. In 1980, Al D'Amato beat incumbent Jacob Javits, who was running on the Liberal line alone in November, as well as Democrat Liz Holtzman. Ronald Reagan carried New York by twice D'Amato's margin.

In 1956, neither Republican Javits nor Democrat Robert Wagner were incumbents, the only time in this half century prior to the 2000 election that a race for an open senate seat occurred at the same time as a presidential election. Like Rudy, Wagner was the NYC mayor. Javits was the state attorney general. Eisenhower reversed his 1952 numbers and clobbered Stevenson by a million-and-a-half vote margin, bringing in Javits, who defeated the son of a former senator by half a million.

The other simultaneous senate and presidential race was 1988—when Democrat Moynihan won by 2.1 million votes and Michael Dukakis by 266,000.

This track record indicates that the only protection against a coattail effect is incumbency, and that even incumbents have lost three times when on the wrong side of a presidential plurality. The Hillary/Rudy race will be the state's first for a vacant senate seat in 42 years, whether you're counting presidential or any other election (Keating won an open seat in 1958, right after Javits won one in 1956).

Open elections are so rare in NY they're unpredictable, but history leaves little doubt that the top of the ticket attracts a different voter pool to the polls and influences senate outcome. There have been five open presidential races in the last 50 years and Democrats have won every time, suggesting again that precedent may be on Hillary's side.

If Al Gore is the party nominee, the fate of a Clinton, for the first time, may well depend on his performance. A debate gaffe, a Buddhist blunder, too much starch, could make him a Mondale, and sink Hillary with him.

Vacuous but amiable George W. may also be just a toke away from being taken. He could start looking like his father, who lost here twice. His favorite Supreme Court judges could turn women voters against both him and the senate candidate running with him. His compassionate conservatism that excludes even gay Republicans could cost his senate sidekick. If it begins to look like big money is subsidizing a hereditary presidency, another Bush may go bust and Rudy with him.

THE OTHER HISTORY THAT MATTERS IS WHERE THE votes are. There are 1.9 million more registered Democrats than Republicans in NY, but that's a misleading figure since thousands of people remain on the rolls after they've moved, and people have been leaving the state in record numbers throughout the decade. That's roughly as true upstate as downstate. As Democratic as the state is in registration and presidential elections (the party has won 8 of the 12 races in the last 50 years), Republicans have won 9 senate contests, Democrats 7, and the Conservative Party, one.

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