Millennial Matchup

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

The largest percentage increase in registration over the past 20 years has been among independent voters. Their numbers have grown from 932,000 to 2,201,000, a 136 percent burst. Every poll shows Giuliani running strongly among independents. Whereas the number of city Democrats and out-of-city Republicans was almost identical in 1980—hovering around the 1.6 million mark—they now outnumber upstate and suburban Republicans by 237,000. In fact, there are only 250,000 more Republicans outside the city than there are Democrats, down sharply from the half million margin of 1980.

While city papers will go on and on from now until election day about the pivotal percentage of the Jewish vote each candidate is drawing, white Catholics decide elections in NY. Everyone's assumption is that Rudy wins the lion's share, but the race will be decided by his margin.

The Irish is where Hillary should start; they are the second biggest voting bloc in the state. The first test of Hillary's willingness to fight for this vote will occur in March, when she will either boycott or join the St. Patty's parade. Chuck Schumer and his two 1998 primary opponents, Geraldine Ferraro and Mark Green, boycotted the parade, and it barely drew a line of press coverage. Rudy and his tabloid touters will pounce on a similar Hillary posture. It will become a major television and upstate story and it will drive the early months of the campaign, possibly killing her with Catholics, the Irish in particular.

illustration: Dale Stephanos

Hillary has to convince gay leadership that the parade boycott is a self-defeating litmus test. Smart civil rights movements pick winnable targets, not 2000-year-old orthodoxy on parade. Smart movements pursue goals that affect lives, not one-day cathartic episodes. Making an enemy out of anyone who participates in a church-connected parade that bars gays from proclaiming their sexuality is dumb politics. It has already cost real political friends votes—like David Dinkins and Ruth Messinger—and heightened Irish hostility to gay interests.

If Hillary decides—for whatever reason—not to show, she should get herself out to Pearl River in Rockland County, where the state's second biggest and the nation's ninth biggest St. Patty's parade is held and where gays have not made marching a sin. A campaign that concentrates media buys on Notre Dame football games, visits Sons of Italy events, turns the Irish peace agreement into a commercial, and searches for ways to move slices of the Catholic vote may beat Rudy.

The 10 counties with the most votes include four in the city, the three great suburban counties, and Erie, Monroe, and Onondaga upstate. Eliot Spitzer won the attorney general race in 1998 by carrying just one of the outside NYC counties—Westchester, which has a Democratic county executive and is vital to any Hillary strategy. He won 75 percent of combined Spitzer/ Vacco votes in the city, counteracting equally lopsided losses in Erie and elsewhere upstate, where native son Dennis Vacco was popular. Though Spitzer only got 66,000 votes on the Liberal line, he would've lost the election by 50,000 votes without it. Had Vacco accepted the Right to Life line that was offered him, he presumably would've collected the 60,399 votes that instead went to a party stalwart and beaten Spitzer.

Schumer carried Westchester, Erie, and Monroe, walloping D'Amato by a half million votes and leaving a road map of where a smart Hillary campaign, perhaps run by the same media consultant Hank Morris, will find its own majority. Schumer and Spitzer were the first two Jewish Democrats to ever defeat a Catholic Republican incumbent in the history of the state; the fact that both did it in the same year suggests a shift in statewide voting patterns.

The critical role of third parties in deciding close statewide elections has been demonstrated again and again in Senate and other statewide races like Spitzer's. The Conservative Party gave George Pataki his winning margin in 1994. D'Amato would not have made it to the Senate in 1980 without the 427,000 votes he collected on the Conservative and Right to Life lines. His Republican tally put him 346,000 votes behind Holtzman. Of course, Javits's 664,544 votes on the Liberal line—where he continued to run after losing the Republican primary—was also decisive.

In 1992, Robert Abrams's total on the Democratic line was 290,000 more than D'Amato's on the Republican. D'Amato's 514,000 on the Conservative and Right to Life lines, however, far exceeded the 143,000 votes Abrams got on the Liberal line. Of course, the Conservatives elected a senator on their own line alone in 1970, when Buckley narrowly defeated Democrat Dick Ottinger. Ironically, the Liberals made this triumph possible by endorsing the Republican incumbent Charles Goodell, who took away enough votes from Ottinger to elect Buckley. Though the Goodell endorsement helped turn the Conservatives into a far more significant force in state politics than the Libs, they did it at the behest of Mayor John Lindsay, who, like Giuliani today, controlled the party through patronage and favors.

No Republican has won statewide without the Conservative line since Javits in 1974. Giuliani appears poised to try. No Republican has won statewide on the Liberal line since Javits either, and running on it may just drive more independents and Republicans to the Conservative Party candidate. Ray Harding and Rudy have to figure out if it's better for Rudy if the Libs run their own candidate who can draw votes away from Hillary. The Independence Party, which has the third spot on the ballot and could go in either direction, will also be a major factor. In any event, the third-party gyrations may well decide this election.

Research assistance by Jennifer Warren

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