By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
NOVEMBER 8A male Republican Party hack who's already in Congress spends millions of dollars on a losing Senate race, pouring most of his money into attacking his more charismatic female Democratic opponent as a liberal.
That's what happened yesterday. In Michigan. And in New York.
The November 7 victories of Hillary Rodham Clinton and Debbie Stabenow were remarkably similar. And the losers, Rick Lazio and Spencer Abraham, had the same expensive chief campaign strategist: Mike Murphy.
As final proof that this century's elections are more about the consultants than about the candidates, the two actual losers could very well fade from public view. Murphy, on the other hand, made millions of dollars this year and, because of his connections to the national GOP, will get as much future work as he wants.
Stabenow, a congresswoman, withstood one of the most expensive Senate campaigns in Michigan history. Abraham, an ex-aide to Dan Quayle who won a Senate seat with Murphy's help in the 1994 Gingrich revolt, spent $14 million to her $6 million. The money spent by Lazio and Hillary topped $100 million; she may have raised more soft money, but Lazio, like Abraham, raked in huge amounts of campaign cash from corporate interests.
Heading into the summer, the lackluster Abraham had fallen behind Stabenow. National observers deemed him the most vulnerable of all incumbent Republican senators.
But then, according to the Detroit News, he launched a three-month blitz of advertisements touting his supposedly great work habits. One ad featured McCain and a trio of women in Congress. To make up more ground, Murphy and Abraham unleashed a barrage of attack ads aimed at Stabenow.
Observers said Abraham outspent his opponent by 5-1 in the summer. The News quoted a Michigan professor as saying, "He tried to define her as the Hillary Clinton of the Midwest. He defined her as 'Liberal Debbie.' "
And Abraham, like Lazio, never let up on the negative ads. Veteran Michigan pundit Bill Ballenger, a former GOP officeholder, told reporters that he thought Abraham's negative ads were a strategic blunder.
Michigan papers reported that Stabenow, a veteran lawmaker with more presence than the stolid Abraham, later won both debates with him. The News pointed out that both candidates launched attack ads on the other but that Michigan voters "usually reject those against women."
Lazio's in-your-face gimmick in his first debate with Hillary didn't exactly win him any admiration.
And in the end, it was Long Islander Lazio who wound up running a carpetbagger's campaign. Despite his incessant yapping about his being a native New Yorker, his chief campaign strategist, Murphy, and his chief campaign spokesman, Dan McLaglan, were outsiders who earned their stripes working for the national GOP and wore their grudges against "liberals" on their sleeves.
The exit polls show that Murphy and McLagan, always busily blasting Hillary, didn't give people much reason to vote for their lightweight candidate. Those polls indicated that 80 percent of the Clinton voters cast their ballots more for her than against him. In contrast, fully half of Lazio's voters told pollsters that they cast their ballots for him because they couldn't stand her.
If those exit polls can be believed, Lazio drummed up very little support on his own merits. Considering the millions of dollars he spent, that would make him one of the least inspiring statewide candidates in recent New York history.