Spoiling for a Catfight

It's scratch, hiss, claw in media land as Clinton and Pirro square off

New York Republicans, it seems, have been happy to boost those numbers. Pirro is the favored pick among those looking to pit a female candidate (see "Code Pink," May 11–18) against Clinton. Those women who tend to cast their ballots for a female candidate would have an alternative if Pirro's name were to appear along with Clinton's—both women, after all, are ambitious lawyers and working mothers with wayward husbands. "Certain women voters say, 'I want to see a woman in the Senate, so I'm voting for Hillary,' " says Edelman, the Republican analyst. "Mrs. Clinton would not have the benefit of their automatic vote." Indeed, the senator dropped some 13 points in the polls after Pirro announced her candidacy—among women she fell from 75 percent to 51 percent, with 21 percent now saying they're undecided.

But the notion that women voters focus more on gender than men voters isn't borne out in election figures, says Ruth Mandel, of the Center on American Women in Politics, at Rutgers University. Typically, incumbency and party ideology trump everything for men or women. When the gender gap has come into play, it has tended to benefit incumbent Democratic women, like Clinton.

Pirro has already bumped into her fair share of problems. At the campaign kickoff in Manhattan, she suffered the embarrassment of losing page 10 of her script—a major gaffe replayed endlessly on TV and the Web. Then reporters tested her grasp of national issues: You say you want to make President Bush's tax cuts permanent, they demanded, so how much would that increase the federal deficit? You say you're pro-choice, but when do you think life begins? You say you support the war on terror, yet what would you do about the troops in Iraq?

Pirro, for the most part, struggled to answer. "It's my first day on the campaign," she pleaded.

And then there is Pirro's greatest liability to date—her husband, Albert. The Albany lobbyist comes with serious baggage, including a prison term for tax evasion and an out-of-wedlock child. Last spring, allegations surfaced that he had leaked sensitive information about one of his wife's criminal cases to a reputed mobster—claims Pirro has denied. Reporters have hounded her at every campaign stop. Why wasn't her husband by her side? What's his role in the campaign? Will he serve as a top fundraiser, as he has for other GOP candidates over the years?

Such scrutiny is sure to continue. But smiling politely in Manhattan, Pirro offered her answer: "I am a strong, independent woman, with a record that I'm proud of, and I will be running this campaign on my own."

Just wait: The grrrowling could get louder yet.

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